Climate change has long been known to be a stressor on glaciers the world over, but a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, reveals just how bad it’s been for those in the Andes: Glaciers in this South American mountain range have the unfortunate distinction of being both the fastest melting and the largest contributors to sea level rise in the world.
Glacial melt has been watched carefully for decades, but because of limitations in technology and methodologies, scientists haven’t gotten the most precise picture of how much melting is occurring, or how fast.
Previous techniques looked at regional locations scattered throughout the Andes like the Northern Patagonian Icefield and then extrapolated those findings. Others gave hazy estimates from low-resolution, remote-sensing images. But these methods can miss individual glaciers and clusters of just a few or more.
In an attempt to refine understanding of Andes-wide glacial melt, the researchers harnessed the image-collecting power of a satellite with the Asimovian name of the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). ASTER has been taking high-resolution, stereoscopic images of the Andes since 2000. By compiling these images and integrating them into digital models, the study’s scientists were not only able to get a new ice loss estimate for the entire Andes, but also for individual regions and individual glaciers over the past two decades.
With this high resolution dataset, the researchers determined that the entire glacial range in the Andes shrunk about 23 gigatons (1 gigaton=1 billion tons) since 2000—more than previous studies have found—and account for 10 percent of global sea level rise. At this rate, some of these ancient glaciers will be gone in just over two centuries—but the rate is accelerating.
Digging through the data, the researchers also parsed out an array of differing melt rates between glaciers that revealed the areas of the heaviest melting: Patagonia (Chile, Argentina) and the tropical Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). Previous research has shown that low altitude glaciers in some of these areas like Peru have lost as much as 50 percent of their mass since 1970.
“[Patagonia] is the region that contains the largest surface of ice, and [so] it’s normal to expect that the highest loss is going to be there,” lead author and glaciologist Inés Dussaillant told GlacierHub over the phone, adding that glaciers terminating in oceans and large lakes like those in Patagonia also experience heavy amounts of calving—which accounts for more than half of all the ice mass loss observed in the Andes. The glaciers in the tropics—mostly in Ecuador and Colombia—Dussaillant explained, are relatively small and highly sensitive to changes in climate. “A small change in temperature can make tropical glaciers lose a lot of mass,” she said.
Perhaps the most troubling of the team’s findings, however, dealt with glaciers’ contribution of freshwater to rivers through snow and ice melt. During the summer months, snow and ice melt from glaciers flows into streams and rivers, adding to the overall water availability of a particular region. This is particularly important in the Dry Andes of the northern and central regions of Chile and Argentina. Since 2010, these heavily populated semi-arid regions have been strapped in what climatologists have called a megadrought. The team found that increased glacial melting in these areas since 2009 actually helped to mitigate some of the most severe impacts of the drought. But as glaciers continue to shrink because of anthropogenic climate change, their ability to act as this natural salve is going to diminish or disappear.
“They are not going to be able to contribute to rivers eternally,” remarked Dussaillant. “There will be a moment where they’ll no longer be able to contribute during these periods of drought.”
This point highlights the larger implications of the study, which is that millions of people live near, and depend upon, these glaciers in the Andes, and the drastic reduction or total disappearance of them is going to have potentially severe consequences. Dussaillant, who is Chilean, pointed out that more than half of the population of Chile lives in or near the capital city Santiago, which lies in this region.
Eyal Levy, an industrial engineer and Andean climber who is also from Chile, told GlacierHub that Chileans are “starting to become very worried about the water stress. He added that rural areas and poorer communes around Santiago have been “seriously impacted.”
Glaciers are a conspicuous part of the everyday scenery, Levy said, and their shrinking takes a toll on people’s emotions. “People talk about melting glaciers with sadness, worry, and without knowing what to do,” he said.
Dussaillant hopes that the high resolution dataset gathered from this study will be used by other glaciologists for local or regional studies. “I study glaciers because they tell us what is happening,” she said. “It’s showing us that climate is changing, and the climate is a global thing. So what’s happening in the Andes … it concerns us all.”
Changes in tropical glaciers in Peru between 2000 and 2016
From The Cryosphere:
“Glaciers in tropical regions are very sensitive to climatic variations and thus strongly affected by climate change. The majority of the tropical glaciers worldwide are located in the Peruvian Andes, which have shown significant ice loss in the last century. Here, we present the first multi-temporal, region-wide survey of geodetic mass balances and glacier area fluctuations throughout Peru covering the period 2000–2016.”
“Cryoconite holes are surface melt-holes in ice containing sediments and typically organisms. In Antarctica, they form an attractive system of isolated mesocosms in which to study microbial community dynamics in aquatic ecosystems. Although microbial assemblages within the cryoconite holes most closely resemble those from local streams, they develop their own distinctive composition.”
Huascaran National Park covers 1,375 square kilometers of the Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash region of north-central Peru. The Cordillera Blanca hosts hundreds of glaciers and glacial lakes.
An international team of scientists taking ice cores from glaciers on Huascaran, Peru’s tallest peak, was forced to halt their research and evacuate the mountain in early August. Residents of the nearby Musho village suspected the scientists were damaging the mountain and mining illegally.
After leaving the mountain, the scientists negotiated with locals and government officials for a solution that would enable them to retrieve their ice cores. After a few tense days, the government provided a helicopter to transport the ice cores and drilling equipment.
The episode hightlights the sometimes tense relations between researchers working in the field and local populations.
Check out GlacierHub’s report on the Huascaran dispute and take a look at images from the excursion provided to GlacierHub by Ivan Lavrentiev, a member of the research team.
A multinational team of scientists taking ice cores from glaciers on Peru’s tallest peak, Huascaran, withdrew from their research site on August 5 due to opposition from residents of the nearby Musho village, who suspected the scientists of causing environmental damage to the mountain and of illegal mining.
When they were asked to leave, the scientists had been on Mount Huascaran for about four weeks and had already completed the extraction of the two pairs of ice cores that they needed for their project. The team was evacuated soon after by a helicopter provided by the national police force. However, they left the samples they had collected on the mountain. Soon after, they entered talks with locals and government officials to find a solution that would enable them to retrieve the ice cores. After a few tense days, the government provided a helicopter to transport the ice cores and drilling equipment. Peruvian members of the expedition were allowed to bring the ice cores and drilling equipment down the mountain, and the expedition came to a successful close.
Where the dispute took place
Huascaran National Park covers 1,375 square kilometers in the Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash region of north-central Peru. It is home to 660 glaciers, 300 glacial lakes, and 27 snowy mountains, Huascaran being just one. The park was created in 1975, declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Some of the tension that led to the conflict can be traced back to historical influences from the founding of the park and the governance of land areas within it. The park is managed by the National Service of Protected Areas (SERNANP), under Peru’s Ministry of the Environment. There are a number of communities, Musho village included, located close to its boundaries. The roads into the park pass through community lands and the peasant communities often exercise rights over those roads. They sometimes regulate, limit, or close traffic to the park. In theory, the government could set rules for travel on the roads, but local communities exercise control over them. Additionally, local communities hold customary rights over pastures and woodlands within the park. Those rights existed prior to the establishment of the park. However, now the communities’ access to these areas is more limited.
Peru passed legislation that bans resource extraction within protected areas without explicit government approval. For those projects that do receive approval, concessions are granted within park land, usually to private firms. In spite of this legislation, the area has a long history of illegal mining operations which take place without formal approval. Over time, they have generated suspicion in local communities of the intentions of outsiders visiting Huascaran.
Luis Vicuña, a sociologist at the University of Zurich, explained that the Ancash region is the site of many environmental problems related to mining. He told GlacierHub that “in recent years, illegal mining has increased in this region,” referring to small scale operations by individuals and groups.
Legal mining operations conducted by large, international firms have also raised suspicions. Some of these operations have caused soil and water contamination. People in affected communities have suffered a variety of health problems, from nosebleeds and headaches to cancer and neurological disorders, and their water supplies have become too polluted to serve for irrigation or domestic use.
The parties involved
The three main parties to the dispute were the team of scientists, the government agencies which issued the permits, and the local communities who objected to the expedition.
The expedition was led by the renowned American paleoclimatologist Lonnie Thompson. It was composed of about a dozen scientists hailing from around the world. Team members were French, Russian, Italian, American, Mexican, and Peruvian, and included scientists from the National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (Instituto Nacional de Investigación en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña or INAIGEM). Over the course of his career, Thompson has published 245 peer-reviewed publications, acquired 76 research grants, and gained world-wide recognition for being one of the first scientists to collect and analyze ice cores from mountain glaciers in tropical and subtropical regions. His expedition was funded with $1.5 million provided by the National Science Foundation. Analysis of the samples was planned to be conducted at Ohio State University, where Thompson has been a professor since 1991.
Gustavo Valdivia, who assisted Thompson with logistics for his expeditions, described it as a joint project between Ohio State University and INAIGEM. “INAIGEM has been doing field research in the Huascaran Glacier since 2014, so this expedition was supposed to build on INAIGEM knowledge, research experience, and relations in the area,” he told GlacierHub.
Paolo Gabrielli, an Ohio State University researcher and one of the scientists on the expedition, told GlacierHub that “the major goal of the expedition was to collect a tropical ice core that was cold enough to extract a pristine record of methane.”
Methane is an important greenhouse gas that is more powerful in retaining heat than carbon dioxide, despite being less common. It is also less well understood than carbon dioxide.
“Another important objective,” added Gabrielli, “is to infer information about the development and evolution of this large forested area [in South America] since the last glacial age (25,000 years ago).” The National Science Foundation website has an online summary of the award Thompson received to fund the expedition. It lists six main objectives for the research, including establishing timescales for the ice cores and studying climate and environmental effects variations in the mid-Holocene period.
Peruvian government agencies granted permits to the research team. The Ministry of the Environment and INAIGEM, a specialized technical body attached to the Ministry of Environment, oversaw the granting of the permits. According to its website, INAIGEM was founded to promote scientific and technical research on glaciers and mountain ecosystems for the benefit of citizens and to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures in the face of climate change.
The locals came from the village of Musho, a small village near the national park. It is the main entry point to the park for climbers who wish to summit Huscaran. The researchers went through Musho on their route to ascend to the glacier. The research team chose mountain guides and porters in the best interest of safety and the training and experience of the guides, Thompson told GlacierHub. “Most of the high elevation porters came from Huaraz and Cusco while porters, arrieros and burros/horses were hired from Musho. Local Musho residents transported expedition equipment, core boxes etc. from Musho up to the Alpine Hut,” he said.
Timeline of Events
“Press conferences were held in Lima on June 27, Mancos on July 4, at the base of Huascaran and on July 5 at the headquarters of the Huascaran National Park,” Thompson told GlacierHub. He continued, stating that they were held “to explain the scientific objectives and to answer questions and concerns of local people and the press concerning the Huascaran Expedition before starting the project. These press conferences were widely aired on TV and local papers.”
An article announcing the upcoming expedition was published on June 26 in Agencia Peruana de Noticias, a news outlet run by the Peruvian government. Prior to the 26th, foreign scientists and Peruvian agencies coordinated with each other about the expedition. On June 27, the Ministry of the Environment tweeted about the goals of the group’s work and included photos of Thompson meeting with Minister of the Environment Lucia Ruiz Ostoic and the executive president of INAIGEM Gisella Orjeda Fernández at the Lima press conference.
Gabrielli maintained a log of the expedition’s progress on his Twitter account. It tells how the team began ascending the mountain with an acclimatization hike to Laguna Shallap (elevation 4,250 meters), before reaching the Refugio Huascaran, a rustic mountain lodge (elevation 4,675m).
On July 9, the president of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, flew in a helicopter to visit the research team at the climbing hut above the village.The trip was reported on by several Peruvian news outlets, both on their own websites and on their social media feeds. Stanislav Kutuzov, another member of the research team, told GlacierHub that during his visit the president “offered all support including providing a helicopter for the transport of the equipment and ice cores from the basecamp to the heliport at the valley.”
After President Vizcarra’s visit, the researchers continued up the mountain, making camp at various elevations. On July 20, the 24th day of the expedition, the first ice core was extracted and on day 27 the drill reached bedrock at 167 m. On day 28, the team started to drill a second core at the same altitude, which they completed two days later, on July 26. Drilling began at the south summit to collect the second pair of ice cores on July 31 and both were completed by August 3.
The villagers from Musho first expressed their discontent with the expedition around July 31 or August 1. Kutuzov was a member of the team that had gone up to the summit to check progress on the drilling. “The drilling team was still at the summit of Huascaran when we received the text message that the local villagers are not happy about this project and suspect a mining operation at Huascaran mountain,” he told GlacierHub. “The next day (1 or 2 August) about 50 agitated local people went up to the basecamp and demanded an immediate termination of all works, and that all foreigners should leave the mountain, ” Kutuzov said.
Thompson and two other members of the expedition met with the group of protestors at the basecamp and listened to the complaints. “The complaints ranged from our team polluting the local drinking water to the President’s helicopter killing a cow,” Thompson said.
On August 5, a Peruvian police helicopter evacuated all foreign members of the scientific team to the city of Huaraz to wait until a solution could be found. This was done to meet the local community’s demands. All the materials, equipment, and ice cores were left on Huascaran.
The porters and mountain guides were asked to descend from the mountain on August 7. On their way down, they and their police escorts were detained by local people in a field outside of Musho. The group remained in the field until 6am when 30 police cars and armed officers arrived to escort them out of Musho.
A Facebook page was launched in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation called La Frente de Defensa por los Intereses del Nevado Huascarán (The Defense Front for the Interests of Mount Huascaran). It posted statuses explaining why locals interrupted the research and stating concerns of illegal mining and a lack of information coming from the Peruvian government regarding the expedition.
On August 10, Gabrielli tweeted that the scientists, villagers, and local institutions were working to resolve the situation. On August 11, the researchers were invited to Musho village to explain the goals of the project to the local communities, Kutuzov told GlacierHub. The video below shows Thompson speaking at the meeting in Musho village. It was taken by a local resident who posted it to Facebook.
After several days of negotiations, it was agreed that the ice cores and drilling equipment could be retrieved from the mountain, a point which had been a matter of deep concern for the scientists. However, Wilmer Sanchez Rodriguez, an environmental engineer and a member of the expedition, told GlacierHub that only the Peruvian porters, mountain guides, and scientists from the expedition were allowed back on Huascaran. The foreigners did not return.
The team was given three days from the first helicopter flight to retrieve the ice cores and remove all the materials left on the mountain. The time was set from the first flight because the team needed time to get people back on the mountain after everyone had been evacuated. The three day period lasted from August 16 to 18.
The expedition came to an end on August 18 when the last of the materials was removed. Orjeda, the president of INAIGEM, and the Ministry of the Environment tweeted that the expedition achieved its goals that day. Various news sources posted articles stating that the expedition successfully concluded on August 19 and 20. However, the Frente de Defensa por los Intereses del Nevado Huascaran posted on August 21 and called the incident an attack on the country’s heritage and ecosystems.
Different Points of View
Vicuña said that the “two perspectives are lacking a kind of dialogue,” characterizing the breakdown in communication between the scientists (and the national agencies which supported them) and the local communities which led to the growth of rumors and divisions.
From the point of view of those who supported the expedition, the scientific research could advance both basic and applied science. The expedition’s underlying scientific mission centered on studying changes in temperature, precipitation, atmospheric chemistry, temperature, and biodiversity in the region over the last 20,000 years. Huascaran is influenced by both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Amazon to east—both areas of great interest in research. The research could also contribute to a better understanding of climate change and the challenges the region may face in the future as the glaciers melt and water supply from meltwater changes. The results could inform public policy going forward. Moreover, from the perspective of the scientists and the agencies, the expedition was fully legitimate. According to INAIGEM, the expedition was authorized by the Ministry of the Environment, through INAIGEM, and was authorized by the national park authority, SERNANP, to enter the park. In other words, they had obtained the necessary approvals to legally conduct their work.
Additionally, Thompson told GlacierHub: “For the Huascaran project (and indeed all of our projects) local people are informed through local lectures, press conferences and a project brochure that are widely distributed before an expedition, written in both English and the local language (in this case Spanish).” Due to these actions, the research team believed they had taken the necessary steps to make residents aware of their work.
Liam Colgan, scientific editor for the International Glaciology Society’s Journal of Glaciology, told GlacierHub about why the taking of ice cores in the Southern Hemisphere is considered particularly important research. “Since these records are often regional, Southern Hemisphere records are very valuable for complementing Northern Hemisphere records,” he said.
Colgan added, “Mid-latitude Southern Hemisphere glaciers currently have some of the highest ice loss rates in the world, which makes them some of the most endangered ice masses on Earth.”
From the point of view of the locals, however, there was great dissatisfaction with poor communication and concerns that nefarious activities were taking place. Some of their suspicions came from preexisting distrust created by illegal mining operations and from the long history of tensions between the park and the communities. Expeditions have sometimes been connected to mining that harmed the region and the local people were suspicious of outsiders who brought drilling equipment to the peak. Locals stated that they had not been involved in or notified of the permitting process carried out by INAIGEM and were unsure of the intentions of the scientists.
A resident of a local village, Elmer Aguilar, told the Associated Press that villagers were angry that they had not been informed of the expedition and that many farmers were under the impression that the scientists were scouting for a mining company. An article in Prensa Huaraz also blames INAIGEM for a lack of communication. In addition to the rural residents who expressed concern, a more senior official, the mayor of the province of Yungay, Fernando Casio Consolación, told ABC Noticias Peru that he was never informed by INAIGEM that the research would take place.
There was a large online response to the events by local community members, with discussion on certain groups, pages, and an individual’s status being shared hundreds of times. The Facebook page of Frente de Defensa por los Intereses del Nevado Huascarán posted on August 7 that 50 people were on the mountain illegally trying to extract minerals. The post was shared 617 times as of September 2.
Similar Situations in Peru and Elsewhere
“As far as we know there are no official studies or statistics that refer to whether [such conflicts] are recurring,” Vicuna told GlacierHub.
He gave an example of a project, financed by Swiss development assistance funds, which installed a high-tech early warning system for glacier lake outburst floods high in the Cordillera Blanca near Huascaran, at Laguna 513. A number of locals opposed it. The Laguna 513 case escalated. After rumors spread that the equipment was preventing the formation of clouds and causing a drought, a number of locals dismantled the station.
Data on the frequency of such conflicts taking place in Peru does not exist.
Valdivia mentioned other occasions where agencies met opposition from locals. He cited problems with the National Meteorological Service installing a weather station and the Ministry of Culture operating archaeological excavation sites.
Potentially adding to or fueling the locals’ suspicions are the high rates of corruption in the Ancash region. According to a recent document produced by La Defensoría del Pueblo, a constitutional body meant to investigate claims against public authorities, the Ancash region experienced a 67 percent increase in cases of crimes against the state between 2016 and 2018, the highest increase in Peru. In 2018, there were 661 complaints of illegal agreements between public officials and entrepreneurs or large businesses.
Outside of Peru, issues of land rights and sovereignty have led to similar conflicts and debate between scientists and local communities. For instance, the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii was temporarily blocked by protestors to whom Mauna Kea, where the telescope is being built, is sacred. The protests have brought up issues of land rights and self-determination of local communities.
However, there have also been projects that have successfully been completed by building trust and relationships with local communities. One such case is that of construction of the Kitt Peak National Observatory, where relations between scientists and native peoples developed slowly over decades, allowing trust to be established. Scientists explained their purpose and goals to the tribal council elders who governed the Native American Tohono O’odham Nation and the elders willingly leased 200 acres of land for the construction of an observatory for educational and research purposes. The conflict in Peru played out more along the lines of the Kitt Peak case than the Mauna Kea dispute.
What caused the opposition?
The strength of the opposition in Peru stands in stark contrast to the large amounts of publicity which the expedition received in Peruvian media before it began. It is unclear why it took locals almost a month to respond to the researchers’ presence and how misinformation spread despite public endorsements of the expedition from the Ministry of the Environment, INAIGEM, and even a visit from Peru’s president. Valdivia pointed out how both INAIGEM and Thompson have a history of doing research in this area of Peru and emphasized the need to determine what was different about this expedition from past trips that took place more smoothly.
“The project suffered greatly from inaccurate and deliberately false statements made on social media during the course of this project even by some of our own team members which actually put team members and the success of the project at risk,” Thompson told GlacierHub.
Some elements can be traced to explain this conflict, including the long history of tension between the park and the communities, the negative effects of mining in the region, and the corruption of officials. Scientists’ statements about their intention to drill down to bedrock may have also created concerns about covert efforts to develop mining. Flights of helicopters over Musho likely also contributed to speculation about the expedition and its purpose.
Gabrielli described how the research team was grateful for a visit from the president. He added that it was possible the visit put the expedition on locals’ radars for the wrong reasons. “This event put also our activity on the spot of the local population from the village of Musho and other communities,” he said. “They concluded that our ice core drilling activity was part of a business agreement between us and the Peruvian government to extract minerals such as gold and silver from Huascaran, heavily impacting this mountain,” he told GlacierHub.
Thompson offered another possible explanation for the events. “According to the general overseeing the operations, instigators were being paid to cause our Huascaran project to fail since the President of Peru had endorsed the project,” he stated.
Valdivia said, “Reading this situation as a case in which the locals ‘confused’ this scientific expedition with a mining operation is too simplistic.” He suggested that outreach activities to inform Peruvians of the expedition were more focused on national and urban audiences than on the local rural populations.
The solution that was reached rested on establishing a dialogue with the locals who objected. Valdivia suggested that if the locals had been fully informed of the expedition and its purpose, there might not have been a conflict.
Similarly, Kutuzov ended his statement to GlacierHub by saying, “We’d like to thank everybody who was helping us in Peru, president of Peru Martín Vizcarra, president of the INAIGEM Gisella Orjeda Fernández, all the authorities, the people of Musho, and all the communities for allowing us to successfully complete the project.” His comment highlights the important role that communication played in resolving the conflict.
Thompson highlighted the complexity of the environment they were working in, saying “the important thing to understand is that we are the outsiders and do not and cannot fully appreciate the history and the culture and that we need to find a way to work through these issues as they arise.” He added, “the Huascaran project was one of the most successful of my career for which I credit an excellent international field team with an array of diverse talents, great team of mountain guides and porters, local support from friends and colleagues at INAIGEM, the Minister of Environment and the President of Peru, Mr. Martin Vizcarra, and indirectly, the people of Musho!” Thompson was invited back to the region to give lectures on the findings of the expedition.
Despite the successful conclusion of Thompson’s expedition, the elements of discord that originated long before the researchers arrived—and which erupted in a dramatic fashion when they entangled with the project—seem to have returned to a simmer. The sudden and suspenseful turns near the end of the expedition might well bubble up again should the ingredients for conflict combine once more.
“High up in the Andes, La Rinconada is a place where people go to seek whatever fortune they can muster in the gold mines nestled there. Delano describes it as a place with no running water or sewage system, populated by about 30,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. It is a place, Delano says, where ‘for over 500 years, La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty) has attracted first the Inca, then the Spanish. For decades, artisanal miners, mostly indigenous Quechua and Aymara, have followed a receding glacier up the valley hoping to find the mother lode, burrowing deep inside the mountain at over 17,700 feet.’”
Animated Netflix film features Andean glaciers and environmentalism
“14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of ‘Pachamama,’ both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of ‘Mother Nature.’”
Swiss glacier provides a home for an experimental lunar habitat
After their inaugural 2019 campaign, Igluna, coordinated by the Swiss Space Center, is running their 2020 program to enable teams of students across Europe to work on technology that would help sustain human life on the moon. As in 2019, the technology will be tested in a Zermatt glacier.
“IGLUNA 2020 is an international student project to build a space habitat demonstrator for sustaining life in an extreme environment. Not only does it demonstrate technologies of the future, but also a new way of collaboration across universities, industry and the space community – while forming students in applied project work. In one year, student teams from various disciplines and different countries across Europe develop their demonstrator modules. Their common objective: to integrate the projects together in a test bed in Switzerland in July 2020. Through international collaboration and interdisciplinary team work, the students gain practical experience in project management, build life-long networks, and kick-start their careers.”
The objective of a series of workshops on the Andean region is to generate learning, synergies, and develop inputs for the promotion of multipurpose projects (PMP) at the local-regional level that integrate management of water resources and risk management in a context of climate change. The workshops, titled “Exchange of experiences to promote multipurpose water projects as a measure of adaptation to climate change and risk management in mountain areas,” are organized by the Glaciers Project +.
Officials from Chile, Colombia, and Peru who work on issues related to climate change, energy, and water will meet to identify conditions for scaling up PMPs in the Andean Region and other territories. The workshops are expected to generate a roadmap for regional exchange on the PMPs.
Among the topics to be discussed during the two days of the workshops will be the problem of water in the Andean region, which will focus on the consensual construction of the multipurpose approach to adaptation to climate change, management of water resources and disaster risk in the framework of the NDCs. Discussions will also occur focusing on implementing PMP initiatives.
The workshops will be held in the cities of Bogotá and Santiago, the first of which will be held on April 9 and 10 in the Council Room of the Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies of the Pontifical Javieriana University in Colombia. The workshop in Santiago will be held on May 2 and 3 at the facilities of the National Irrigation Commission.
Peru’s National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (INAIGEM) is taking steps forward in developing the country’s National Policy for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, one of its principal mandates. INAIGEM recently published an article in its institutional journal titled, “Specific Guidelines for Formulation of the Proposal for the National Policy of Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems of Peru,” which serves as the first publicly available content that could be included in the final policy. The goal of the document is to support INAIGEM and the Ministry of Environment with an initial framework for subsequent policy development. Meanwhile, it also aims to set a foundation for an inclusive policy-making process that is representative of the people and landscapes within its purview.
As a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow and then consultant for CARE Peru, I produced this document in collaboration with INAIGEM’s leadership and diverse external stakeholders. To generate its content, I interviewed a variety of experts across government agencies, NGOs, and academia, did a case study of local community perspectives via surveys in the field, and then translated their responses into its policy lines. Meanwhile, via a database I built, I analyzed existing normative environmental structures in Peru on international, national, and subnational scales to determine how a new policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems would integrate with, complement, or fulfill said structures.
Although there are a number of normative environmental mechanisms that incorporate some aspect of glaciers or mountain ecosystems across Peruvian governance, there is no specific apparatus for such topics despite their critical importance to human well-being and economic production. Being that there are many sectors and populations that depend on glaciers and mountain ecosystems in a variety of ways, disjointed management of these landscapes has been a major problem. Thus, with the creation of INAIGEM in December 2014, the government determined the policy will be a necessary tool to ensure the sustainable management of glaciers and mountain ecosystems for populations that live within or benefit from them.
INAIGEM’s leadership recognized that developing the policy and its subsequent implementation must be a collaborative effort for it to achieve positive socio-environmental outcomes in the Andes. According to former executive president, Engr. Benjamín Morales, “A national policy must be made with national participation … I believe that being a policy, the most important part is the country. The country must intervene. The whole Ministry [of Environment] and the other ministries should be involved in this policy.”[ Engr. Morales’s sentiment was based on avoiding a lack of buy-in across institutions, which is characteristic of Peruvian bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, INAIGEM’s heads of research activities echoed Engr. Morales’s point. Former Director of Information and Knowledge Management Engr. Ricardo Villanueva emphasized, “It is not only about doing isolated activities, but to develop an integrated and coordinated strategy of action for different institutions with interests in glaciers and mountain ecosystems.” As an example of the need for greater institutional coordination and integration, Engr. David Ocaña, the former head of research on mountain ecosystems said, “I think a policy is necessary because there are many gray areas between institutions. For example, [there are] gray areas between ANA and INAIGEM or with the Ministry Agriculture. The policy is going to be a tool that may not so much eliminate these gray areas but it will be clearer for each actor what their role and function is within what is glaciers and mountain ecosystems.”[
The need for clarity and coordination across institutions is a reflection of how multifaceted a Peruvian policy for glaciers and mountain ecosystems must be. There is a regional trend in developing such normative frameworks; for example, with Argentina having its law for protecting glaciers while Chile is developing a policy for mountains. However, Peru’s aim for the policy is unique in the region in terms of mountain-centered normative frameworks. For instance, it must be every bit about forests as glaciers to reflect the dramatic and diverse montane landscapes where glaciated peaks and tropical cloud forests can neighbor each other. Furthermore, the policy must address the country’s notorious tendency for major natural disasters in the Andes as well as an uncertain future in the face of climate change. INAIGEM’s area for intervention is anywhere 1,500 meters in altitude and above, therefore there are numerous issues that the policy will need to incorporate across varying environmental, social, and economic dimensions.
Thus, this initial document aims to be as holistic and comprehensive as possible in covering such dimensions and comes in the form of a potential national policy. Its framework has policy lines that address necessary outcomes across Peru’s diverse mountain landscapes, with four specific policy axes:
and Conservation of Glaciers and Andean Water Resources
and Sustainability of Mountain Ecosystems
Capacity Against Climatic, Geological, and Glaciological Risks
Knowledge, and Socio-Environmental Andean Culture
Within each axis, there are general objectives that link to more specific policy lines. The policy lines were constructed in a coordinated and integrated fashion, with the intention of being transversal within the framework as well as with the existing normative environmental mechanisms of the country. The next steps for developing the policy will be to secure appropriate funding then carry out public consultations to engage various interested stakeholders throughout the country to assure that the end result is representative of their needs and generates applicable solutions to many complex problems. Such consultations should ensure that the policy is human-centered, with a specific focus of strengthening the rights and resilience of marginalized Andean populations. Dr. Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andes Program for the Mountain Institute highlighted that, “Peru is a cradle … of several civilizations centered on issues [within the] mountains … The concept of mountains has … a deep historical value in Peru … Peru needs to generate a mountain policy [that] … has to do with values of the country and has to do with … the identity of the nation.”
Once a final policy proposal is complete, it needs approval from the Ministry of Environment and then the Council of Ministers of the Presidency. Hopefully with their backing, the policy can help generate the necessary political will to acknowledge and address the many problems that pertain to glaciers and mountain ecosystems in Peru. Engr. Villanueva emphasized this as he warned, “If the politicians who make decisions are not aware of the importance of glaciers and mountain ecosystems … investments that are required to be made at the level of these territories will be very limited.”
From Nature: “Objectively estimating trends in GLOF frequency is challenging as many lakes form in terrain with limited access, making fieldwork impractical. In the HKKHN, outburst floods from glacier lakes initiated mainly between 4,500 and 5,200 m above sea level and some attenuated rapidly, possibly escaping notice in human settlements several thousand vertical metres below. Reliable reports on 40 GLOFs since 1935 are selective. We mapped these GLOFs, originally compiled by regional initiatives, highlighting 32 cases in the Central and Eastern Himalayas in contrast to the very few cases in the northwestern Hindu Kush–Karakoram (HKK) and Nyainqentanglha Mountains. We speculate that these 40 reports preferentially covered large or destructive cases, which makes the assessment of their frequency problematic. In trying to account for this reporting bias, our objective is to estimate GLOF frequency and its changes from a systematic inventory covering the entire HKKHN.”
New Project Examines Changes in Peru’s River Systems
From Phys.org: “Remote communities in the Peruvian Andes, as well as communities downstream, depend on the water from melting glaciers and mountain ecosystems to provide them with food and power, and to support industry.
But climate change is increasingly putting that in jeopardy, posing a serious threat to future water resources and having potentially severe implications for the vulnerable populations living in river basins-fed by the glaciers.
Now a major research project is looking to establish the precise effects future changes in the glacial system might pose, and how agencies and the communities themselves can work together to mitigate the potential effects of changing water quantity and quality as the glacier retreat.”
Climate Change Likely to Impact Glacier-Fed Rivers in New Zealand
From International Journal of Climatology: “Future climate change is likely to alter the amount, seasonality and distribution of water available for economic use downstream of alpine areas, so there is a need to forecast glacier net mass loss when assessing future hydrological change. This issue is of considerable relevance to New Zealand, which relies heavily on hydro power for electricity generation. An important river system is the Waitaki, which contains eight hydro generating stations and has a significant input from seasonal snow and glacier melt. Thus, changes in glacier ice volume and atmospheric circulation have long term implications for energy production. The impacts of climate change on water resources are also critical for the Clutha River. This is New Zealand’s largest river with extensive hydro-electricity and irrigation assets. Third, there are close links between glaciers and the large tourism industry in New Zealand, which along with agriculture, is the major driver of the national economy. All these factors mean that there is growing economic concern as to what may happen in the future.”
Here we examine three Ausangate Glaciers in Peru, which descend south from the Nevado Ausangate group of peaks in the Cordillera Vilcanota. A circumnavigation trek around Nevado Ausangate is a favorite for visitors to the Machu Picchu area.
The glaciers are just west of Laguna Sibinacocha, and drain into the Rio Vilcanota. Retreat of glaciers in the Cordillera Vilcanota has been rapid since 1975, Veettil et al (2017) noted that ~80 percent of glaciated area below 5,000 meters was lost from 1975-2015, and glacier area overall area had declined 48 percent. Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014) observed that from 1988-2010, glacial areas in the Cordillera Vilcanota declined annually by ~ 1 percent per year.
In 1995 the three glaciers all terminate in incipient proglacial lakes. The terminus of #3 is debris covered. By 2000 each of the glaciers is still terminating in an expanding proglacial lake. Glacier #1 and #2 have developed to a size of ~0.1 square kilometers. Glacier #3 still shows limited lake development.
By 2018 Glacier #1 has retreated 450 m and is now separated from the lake. Glacier #2 has retreated 400 m and no longer reaches the lake. Glacier #3 is still in contact with the lake which still has debris covered stagnant ice covering a portion of the basin. This lake has an area of 0.13 square kilometers, and could reach an area of ~0.2 square kilometers depending on debris cover thickness.
The terminus of each glacier has retreated above 5,000 m since 1995. The glaciers each have extensive crevassing and maintains a snow covered accumulation zone, indicating they can survive current climate. Veettil et al (2017) noted that glacier area above 5,300 m was relative stable, for Ausangate Glaciers the area above 5,200 m is in the accumulation zone and has been relatively stable.
The formation of new lakes and the retreat from proglacial lakes has been a common occurrence in recent decades for Andean glaciers in Peru such as Manon Glacier and Soranano Glacier. The key role of glaciers to runoff is illustrated by the fact that 77 percent of lakes connected to a glacier watershed have maintained the same area or expanded, while 42 percent of lakes not connected to a glacier watershed have declined in area, according to Henshaw and Bookhagen (2014). The Ausangate Glaciers supply runoff to the Machupicchu Hydroelectric Power Plant managed by EGEMSA, which has an operating capacity of 90 megawatts. The Vilcanota River becomes the Urubamba River further downstream.
This article was originally published on the American Geophysical Union blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.
This week’s video features the passion project of Quechua activist Irma Alvarez to preserve the Quechua tradition through orality and writing. Quechua refers to the original group of languages spoken by the Incan Empire in the Andes Mountains. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, use of the language was suppressed as the indigenous groups were indoctrinated to Catholicism and the Spanish language. Quechua is a linguistic family wherein distinct dialects vary from community to community.
Despite the lack of printed material written in the Quechuan language, indigenous peoples clung to their mother tongue. It is estimated around ten million people still speak it across five South American countries today. Without literacy, however, the language is vulnerable to extinction. Alvarez is on a mission to teach Quechuan speakers how to read and write in their native language by increasing access and availability of printed materials. The Quechua Alliance in the United States hosts an annual meeting as part of the effort to preserve the culture of the high Andes by expanding the availability of the Quechuan oral tradition. The video has English subtitles.
Each year, during the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, thousands of pilgrims gather from Peru and Bolivia to celebrate Qoyllur Rit’i, an indigenous ritual containing elements of both Andean and Christian religious cultures.
A recent article published in E&E News offers new insight on retreat of Qollqepunku Glacier and explains how specific traditions of Qoyllur Rit’i are changing in response to temperature increase and glacial melt. The article highlights recent legislative restrictions as well as changing values of Andean people.
A Brief History of Qoyllur Rit’i
Qoyllur Rit’i is Peru’s greatest pagan-Christian festival, which intertwines the two religious cultures. Traditionally, during the festival, pilgrims process to the top of Mount Sinakara wearing colorful costumes, carrying flags and crosses, and playing musical instruments.
The journey covers around 18.6 miles spatially, and the glacial peak reaches over 3 miles in elevation. During the festival, pilgrims stop at a small church where they lay drawings and figurines.
Ukukus, individuals wearing shaggy alpaca robes and masks, journey to the peak of the mountain in the night, chop off large chunks of ice, and carry the ice back down. This practice has been forbidden in recent years.
Some believe that the act of carrying the ice is penance for their sins; others think the meltwater from the ice possesses medicinal properties and can cure ailments.
By completing this ritual, pilgrims believe that apus, the spirits of the mountains, will bestow blessings and fulfill aspirations.
Implications of Glacial Melt
Qoyllur Rit’i is based on beliefs that the glacier is awake and responsive and that Mother Earth and apus protect and provide for its people, but as the glacier recedes, the Peruvian government has set restrictions on the tradition.
“One of the most important parts of the ritual at the sanctuary had been forbidden because of the glacial melt,” Zoila Mendoza, professor at the University of California, Davis and an attendee of Qoyllur Rit’i, told GlacierHub. “This was, the bringing of chunks of ice from the top of the glacier to be taken by pilgrims back to their towns which was the final step to other secret rituals that happened on the ice. The prohibition went into effect around 2002.”
Ukukus can no longer bring back ice or water from the glacier, and many pilgrims no longer travel up the mountain and instead, watch from dry land.
“More drastically, as of this year, the rituals at the snow peak have been stopped for the same reason of the melting,” Mendoza said. “I know that the pilgrims have been very disturbed that the rituals relating to climbing to the ice and coming down with ice cannot continue to exist breaking an important cycle in the whole celebration, a celebration that has to do with fertility and well-being for the whole Cusco region.”
Beliefs regarding Qoyllur Rit’i are also shifting. As the snow peak melts, locals conclude that the deities are losing their powers.
“Eventually Andean religion may erode and these legends may become meaningless,” claims Inge Bolin, research associate at Vancouver Island University.
Quelccaya is the largest tropical ice cap in the world. It is located in the Central Andes of Peru and has a summit elevation of about 5,680 meters. A recent study suggests that the ice cap might soon cease to exist. Researchers used climate data to examine the impacts of the different forcings to determine how imminent its future disappearance is, and to what extent human activity affects the timing.
About 99 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers are located in the Andes, with around 70 percent found in Peru. Glaciers in the tropical Andes are critical to the regional environment. Through runoff, they provide a much-needed water supply during the dry season. A future disappearance of Quelccaya Ice Cap (QIC) could mean significant changes to the ecosystem, impacts on tourism, and consequences to the culture and traditions of the local populations.
Scientists used daily air temperature and snow height data to build projections of retreat at the QIC. Air temperature over the Peruvian Andes has increased over the last six decades, leading to greater retreat. Rising air surface temperatures are one of the major contributors to this retreat, although variations in precipitation and snowfall contribute as well. Meanwhile, El Nino and the South American Summer Monsoon can also impact QIC conditions, but on an interannual timescale.
The researchers also examined the different Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios (RCPs) that play a huge role in the future of tropical glaciers. RCPs are used in scientific modeling to provide temporal projections on greenhouse gas concentrations. These concentrations contribute to warming and have a great effect on glaciers. The rate of warming is typically amplified with elevation in many mountain regions due to elevation dependent feedbacks, which are explained further in the study.
Results of the research show that through anthropogenic and natural forcings, QIC loses mass at its front and base. This means that by around 2050, the ice cap could completely disappear. Even with a great reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations, results indicate that an eventual disappearance can be expected closer to the end of the century. The researchers further explained that these findings are consistent with observations of other glaciers in the tropics. We can look at glaciers in Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela, as they have also experienced accelerated retreat over the last decades.
Andrew Malone, a Visiting Assistant Professor at The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), told GlacierHub more about the shrinking of QIC and its impacts. “The largest impact would be on loss of water resources for communities both locally and downstream. In the short-term accelerated melting actually increases water resources. But as ice melts, that ‘stored’ water shrinks and shrinks, and at some point the glacier reservoir becomes so small that the total run-off contribution starts to decrease with time,” he said.
Malone went on to explain that as glaciers melt, lakes form in their place. These lakes are dammed by glacial moraines, which are formed by buildup of falling dirt and rocks from melting glaciers. Moraines are not structurally sound. As ice falls off glaciers and into the new lakes, large waves can form and flood the downstream landscape. Malone said that this has happened to the lake in Qori Kalis valley, and as a result livestock were lost with the flooding. Similar events can be expected to happen at QIC as well.
While there is much research and understanding of the glacial and environmental impacts of climate change, the human impacts should also be considered. GlacierHub spoke with anthropologist Gustavo Valdivia, who is currently doing research on the Andes. His research looks at the impacts of QIC glacier melt on the nearby community of Phinaya. This community relies on herding alpaca, selling alpaca wool for their livelihood; thus, they are very dependent on runoff waters to irrigate the pastures for their flocks. At present the Phinaya community benefits from the greater runoff, Valdivia said, but this abundance is not likely to last long. The livestock might also be at risk from flooding, as seen in Qori Kalis.
Valdivia added that there is a key difference between understanding and experiencing climate. Researchers understand the science behind glacial retreat and warming, but it’s the people who experience these changes. He highlighted the importance of building genuine communication with scientific information. As glaciers continue to melt, it’s vital to build connections to the people and communities who are affected, examining ways in which we can adapt to the changes in our climate and environment. Though each community faces climate change in a specific way, they are also part of a global process of change.