Image: Chile Missing Lake
Chilean National Forest Service via AP
Before and after images of the five-acre lake that vanished in southern Chile.
updated 6/22/2007 12:31:21 PM ET 2007-06-22T16:31:21

A five-acre lake in southern Chile that literally vanished could have been a victim of global warming, experts said.

The disappearance of the lake in Bernardo O'Higgins National Park was discovered in late May by park rangers, who were stunned to find a 130-foot deep crater where a large lake had been just two months earlier, when they last visited the area.

Officials said a clear explanation of why the lake vanished would likely not be known until experts visit the remote region in Chile's southern Andes.

Juan Jose Romero, head of Chile's National Forest Service in the region, said it would take geologists and other experts about two or three weeks to reach the remote area 1,250 miles south of Santiago.

But, based on pictures from the site, experts already were discussing hypotheses related to global warming and seismic activity.

Video: MIA lake Gino Casassa, a glaciologist at the Center for Scientific Studies, said the cause may have been a phenomenon known as glacial lake outburst floods.

As glaciers retreat, glacial lakes form behind natural dams of ice or moraine. These relatively weak dams can be breached suddenly, causing the lake to drain. Possible causes for the dam to be breached include a sudden input of water into the lake, an earthquake or avalanches or ice or rock.

Casassa said the lake was fed by two glaciers, the Bernardo and the Tempano, "and both are receding."

The water level of the lake could have risen with the increasing flow from the melting glaciers.

"At the same time, the increased amount of water opens a tunnel under the ice, emptying the lake," Casassa said.

Another glaciologist, Andres Rivera, said that "most glaciers in the region are receding as a result of the global warming."

This may both create new lakes or cause others to empty, he said.

Casassa said glaciers can recede for other reasons than global warming. It can be the result of the natural dynamic of glaciers, which recede or grow. "But I am convinced that in this case, it is the result of global warming," he said.

The empty lake is about 5,000 feet above sea level.

Romero, the head of the forest service, said another theory is that the water disappeared through huge cracks at the bottom of the crater. He said the cracks may have been caused by the strong quake that rocked the region on April 21.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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