Fjords of Tierra del Fuego

Where climate change has glaciers in a state of flux.

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Aerial view of terra del Fuego by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago near the southernmost tip of South America. Here, in a region that is shared by Chile and Argentina, the Andes drop off and ultimately meet the ocean, forming spectacular islands and fjords. 
The Cordillera Darwin is the mountain range’s final stretch, which ends with glaciers that touch the sea.

Deciphering the impact of climate change here is more complex than perhaps anywhere else in the world.  The region is known for its peculiar climate and has rarely been the focal point of extensive exploration. 

Ushuaia (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In November 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - explored the fjords and nearby glaciers. 

Tierra dle Fuego National Park (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Soundscape of Tierra del Fuego
00:00

To explore the fjords of Tierra del Fuego, you need to board a ship in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Upon entering the Beagle Channel, the mountains suddenly drop off into the sea.

Aguila Glacier from the sea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The pristine fjords of “Glacier Alley” at the Chilean border mark the spot where the glaciers end their course.

Pia Glacier from the sea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Most of the glaciers here were discovered and named in the late 19th century by Alberto Maria De Agostini, an Italian missionary, explorer and photographer. Today, the area he mapped is a National Park that bears his name. 

Pia Glacier from the sea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary


De Agostini likely named Pia Glacier in honor of Princess Maria Pia de Savoia, the daughter of the King of Italy at the time.

Pia Glacier from the coast (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This massive glacier makes its way down from the Cordillera into the sea. The glacial ice cracks and groans as it slowly moves over rock. 

Tourists approaching Aguila Glacier (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Most of the glaciers here are difficult to explore, but the Pia Glacier, and the smaller Aguila Glacier, are accessible by foot. A small patch of mountain terrain obstructs the path of the Aguila Glacier to the sea. 

Condor Glacier from the sea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Most glaciers in The Cordillera Darwin are found at the bottom of a steep fjord.

Tourists approaching Condor Glacier (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The only way to approach Connor Glacier is by boat, and only when good weather allows.

Remains of hut from the Yaghan people (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The native Fuegians are the only people to have attempted to settle the region. Many believe that the "Tierra del Fuego" name refers to the sight of the many fires burning in front of huts and on boats. 

Unfortunately, the indigenous people were unable to master the harsh climate of the region and fell victim to diseases introduced by European colonization. 

Cormorants on the fjord's wall (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Only a few companies are permitted to operate in the Beagle Channel.  In exchange, they are expected to be stewards of the native flora and fauna. Cormorants are coastal birds that regularly nest throughout the fjords.  

Magdalena island (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Isla Magdalena
00:00

Some small islands in Tierra del Fuego are home to entire colonies of birds. Isla Magdalena is well known for its large population of Magellanic penguins.

Magellanic penguin (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Climate change has displaced fish populations, which has forced the Magellanic penguins to swim longer distances to catch fish. The longer return trip home means longer wait times for food.  

Detail of Condor Glacier (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Remarkably, the cold and cloudy weather has helped some glaciers in The Cordillera Darwin advance instead of retreat. This phenomenon is especially pronounced for the glaciers facing south. The glaciers that face north, like Ventisquero Marinelli, are in retreat, by an average of several hundred meters per year over the last two decades.

Detail of Pia Glacier (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The disparate impact of climate change on the glaciers in the region has attracted the attention of scientists.  

Antartic seawater (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

Due to its remote location and harsh conditions, much of Tierra del Fuego has remained immune to exploitation.  In the era of climate change, however, the impact of human activity can be felt everywhere on the planet. How will the fjords and glaciers of this majestic region fare as global temperatures continue to rise? 


Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar.

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change.

Thanks to: Felipe Arruda, Australis.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps