Photo Friday: Glacier Melt in Bolivia Exacerbates the Nation’s Water Crisis

Photographer James Whitlow Delano has created a series of powerful images of Bolivia’s ongoing water crisis. His photos focus on the Altiplano, the high plateau where the Andes Mountains are at their widest and which crosses the borders of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, is the largest city on the plateau. Families from rural areas are moving into La Paz and its largest satellite city, El Alto, because the agricultural way of life they rely on is no longer viable due to a lack of water. These families move into slums in the cities, like the one captured below, hoping to find better paying jobs.

Rural areas are struggling because the glaciers they rely upon are melting, which means less water for farming or snow for skiing. The lodge shown below was formerly a part of the highest ski resort in the world, but now sits empty because the Chacaltaya Glacier, which filled the adjacent valley, melted entirely in 2009 due to warmer and more frequent El Nino events.

Mountains in the Andes, like Condoriri, currently show what the region would look like without the effects of climate change. Glaciologist Edison Ramirez conducted a study that predicted, however, that the glaciers on the mountain may completely melt over the course of the next thirty years.

The melting of the glaciers has already had negative effects; along the shores of the dried up Lake Poopo sit quinoa plants in desiccated soil. Migration from rural areas to Bolivia’s cities is driven by drought. The difficulties created by drought are contributing to residents’ moves into bigger cities.

Lake Poopo was previously the second largest lake in Bolivia. As of 2015, it sits empty. 

Other lakes and ponds in the Altiplano are at risk of suffering the same fate; below is a pond in the process of drying up. The melting of the glaciers and the lakes they feed is significant because the Altiplano does not get enough rain to support those who live there—It relies on glacial melt to support the human population.

Since the series on Bolivia was posted in late June, @everydayclimatechange has highlighted water shortages in Chennai, India; wildfires in Yosemite; and youth climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish youth climate activist.  

All photos by James Whitlow Delano @jameswhitlowdelano for @everydayclimatechange.

Read More on GlacierHub:
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Drying Peatlands in the Bolivian Andes Threaten Indigenous Pastoral Communities

The  Andes  are the longest mountain range in the world, stretching 4,500 miles long and spanning seven South American countries: Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Andean ecosystems include peatlands, grasslands, shrublands, salt flats, forests, and alpine regions. Mountain peatlands, or bofedales, play a particularly central role in the rearing of llamas and alpacas, which provide wool and meat to Andean, pastoral communities.

Alpacas at Sajama National Park, Bolivia (Source: Karina Yager)

Alpacas at Sajama National Park, Bolivia (Source: Karina Yager)

In order to remain productive and green, bofedales require continuous water supply from precipitation, groundwater, and glacial outflow. Without adequate water flow, bofedales are likely to dry up. Climate change and poor irrigation exacerbate the drying of bofedales.

A recently published research article in Springer Nature analyzes bofedal changes due to decreased water availability in Sajama National Park (PNS) in Bolivia. Karina Yager, NASA researcher and Stony Brook University professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, leads the scientific investigation.

Using satellite image analysis, vegetation studies, and traditional ecological knowledge, Yager and fifteen of her colleagues, from institutions in the U.S. and South America, study land cover changes over a 30-year timeframe and identify communal perspectives on drying bofedales.

Yager shared to GlacierHub: “traditional ecological knowledge gives voice to the human dimensions of land cover and land use change which are often overlooked; in this case with the bofedales, locals help us to understand both the climatic and social drivers of bofedal change, from shifting weather patterns, to water access, to herd management.”

Highlighting the Study’s Findings


Yager and some of her colleagues completing a vegetation survey of plant species growing in bofedales in Sajama National Park
(Source: Karina Yager)

PNS contains five pasture areas, where Andean communities reside. The pasture areas include: Sajama, Lagunas, Caripe, Papelpampa, and Manasaya. Members from all five communities participated in focus group sessions to share information regarding bofedal condition, climatology, and potential irrigation actions.

A Manasaya herder shared to the researchers: “the pastures of the bofedal are dying because not enough water is entering any longer. In some places that are dry, you can hear how the water runs below and you can see that there are places where the bofedal is sinking. There are holes; we cover them so the livestock do not fall in.”

Through field work and data collection, the researchers find that three communities within PNS—Sajama, Lagunas, and Manasaya—show significant loss of healthy bofedales. These land changes will likely result in decreases to animal health and communal livelihoods. In addition, completely dried bofedales are difficult to restore and likely take generations to recover.

Yager states to GlacierHub: “These are peatland systems that are relatively slow growing and have developed in many cases over several millennia. Some of the systems in Sajama are over four thousand years old, and unfortunately some have become completely desiccated within the last five to ten years.

Some bofedal systems would take generations to recuperate, and others may just be completely lost.”

On the other hand, increases in healthy bofedal land cover is observed in the two other, irrigated PNS regions of Caripe and Papelpampa. This finding signals that proper irrigation management and communal-based pasture management are critical to the conservation of bofedales.

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Roundup: Restless Volcano, Bolivian Andes, and Capelin

Restless Glacier-Covered Volcano on Alaska Peninsula

From Alaska Volcano Observatory: “Unrest continues at Veniaminof. Seismicity remains elevated with weak tremor, but levels have decreased since midweek. Webcam views of the volcano have been obscured by clouds. Cloudy satellite data over the past 24 hours show intermittent elevated surface temperatures. No significant ash emissions have been observed or reported.”

Read more about Veniaminof Volcano here.

Veniaminof Volcano is at current alert level WATCH and current aviation color code ORANGE (Source: Alaska Volcano Observatory).

 

Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Bolivian Andes

From Natural Hazards: “Previous research has identified three potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Bolivian Andes, but no attempt has yet been made to model GLOF inundation downstream from these lakes… We suggest that Laguna Arkhata and Pelechuco lake represent the greatest risk due to the higher numbers of people who live in the potential flow paths, and hence, these two glacial lakes should be a priority for risk managers.”

Read more about GLOF risk in the Bolivian Andes here.

Location of glaciers and potentially dangerous glacial lakes in the Bolivian Andes, as well as the 2009 Keara GLOF event (Source: Natural Hazards).

 

Feeding Ecology of Capelin in a Greenland Fjord

From Polar Biology: “Capelin (Mallotus villosus) is an important trophic node in many Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems. In Godthåbsfjord, West Greenland, the zooplankton community has been shown to change significantly from the inner part of the fjord, which is impacted by several glaciers to the shelf outside the fjord. To what extent this gradient in zooplankton composition influences capelin diet during their summer feeding in the fjord is yet unknown.”

Learn more about the feeding ecology of Capelin here.

An illustration of a Capelin (Source: Creative Commons).

 

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Video of the Week: Ice Memory

In a bid to preserve ice cores and valuable climate information from some of the world’s most endangered glaciers, scientists are creating a global ice archive sanctuary in Antarctica. The Ice Memory project is being led by the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation.

From Mont Blanc Massif’s Col du Dôme glacier to the Illimani glacier in Bolivia, over 400 ice cores have been retrieved to be preserved in the ice bunker.

To learn more about Ice Memory, see the video below from the Université Grenoble Alpes Foundation:

Discover more glacier news at GlacierHub:

Irrigation a Potential Driver of Glacial Advance in Asia

Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in Ecuador

Discovery of a Major Medieval Glacier Lake in Svalbard

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Roundup: Carbon Sinks, Serpentine Syndrome and Migration Dynamics

Roundup: Carbon, Serpentine, and Migration

 

Dwindling Glaciers Lead to Potential Carbon Sinks

From PLOS ONE: “Current glacier retreat makes vast mountain ranges available for vegetation establishment and growth. As a result, carbon (C) is accumulated in the soil, in a negative feedback to climate change. Little is known about the effective C budget of these new ecosystems and how the presence of different vegetation communities influences CO2 fluxes. On the Matsch glacier forefield (Alps, Italy) we measured over two growing seasons the Net Ecosystem Exchange (NEE) of a typical grassland, dominated by the C3 Festuca halleri All., and a community dominated by the CAM rosettes Sempervivum montanum L… The two communities showed contrasting GEE but similar Reco patterns, and as a result they were significantly different in NEE during the period measured. The grassland acted as a C sink, with a total cumulated value of -46.4±35.5 g C m-2 NEE, while the plots dominated by the CAM rosettes acted as a source, with 31.9±22.4 g C m-2. In spite of the different NEE, soil analysis did not reveal significant differences in carbon accumulation of the two plant communities, suggesting that processes often neglected, like lateral flows and winter respiration, can have a similar relevance as NEE in the determination of the Net Ecosystem Carbon Balance.”

Learn more about the colonization of a deglaciated moraine here.

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Glacier National Park (Source: Ada Be/Flickr).

 

Vegetation and the Serpentine Syndrome

From Plant and Soil: “Initial stages of pedogenesis (soil formation) are particularly slow on serpentinite (a dark, typically greenish metamorphic rock that weathers to form soil). This implies a slow accumulation of available nutrients and leaching of phytotoxic (poisonous to plants) elements. Thus, a particularly slow plant primary succession should be observed on serpentinitic proglacial areas. The observation of soil-vegetation relationships in such environments should give important information on the development of the serpentine syndrome (a phrase to explain plant survival on serpentine)… Plant-soil relationships have been statistically analysed, comparing morainic environments on pure serpentinite and serpentinite with small sialic inclusions in the North-western Italian Alps….Pure serpentinite supported strikingly different plant communities in comparison with the sites where the serpentinitic till was enriched by small quantities of sialic rocks.”

Find out more about the serpentine syndrome here.

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand (Source: André Pipa/Flickr).

 

Climate Changes Landscape of South American Communities

From Global Migration Issues: “Mountain regions are among the most vulnerable areas with regard to global environmental changes. In the Bolivian Andes, for example, environmental risks, such as those related to climate change, are numerous and often closely intertwined with social risks. Rural households are therefore characterized by high mobility, which is a traditional strategy of risk management. Nowadays, most rural households are involved in multi-residency or circular migratory movements at a regional, national, and international scale. Taking the case of two rural areas close to the city of La Paz, we analyzed migration patterns and drivers behind migrant household decisions in the Bolivian Andes… Our results underline that migration is a traditional peasant household strategy to increase income and manage livelihood risks under rising economic pressures, scarcity of land, insufficient local off-farm work opportunities, and low agricultural productivity… Our results suggest that environmental factors do not drive migration independently, but are rather combined with socio-economic factors.”

Read more about migration dynamics here.

View of the Bolivian Andes and the city of La Paz (Source: Cliff Hllis/Flickr).
View of the Bolivian Andes and the city of La Paz (Source: Cliff Hellis/Flickr).

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