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Climber Scientists in Peru

Posted on: May 2nd, 2012 by Luke Bauer

Member and climber scientist John All wrote to us about an upcoming Peruvian expedition.

The AAC is supporting a humanitarian expedition to Peru this summer that combines mountain conservation with science objectives to help protect the peaks that we all love. A small team of sixteen researchers, university students, and climbers—all AAC members—will be working with local Peruvian scientists, students, and Park personnel to study Huascaran National Park. While this summer’s expedition will be a small one, we will develop research protocols to help ensure the success of a larger effort in 2013—once that hopefully will see AAC member participation from all of the sections.

Mountains provide critical services for much of humanity—for example, over 60% of the world’s population depends on mountain/glacier water—yet alpine regions are undergoing unprecedented change due to human land uses and changing environmental conditions. The American Alpine Club, through its members, has the expertise and experience as well as the duty to protect the places we love to climb.  Through integrated environmental science expeditions to indicator mountain ranges such as the tropical Andes in Peru, these climber scientists will build the field techniques, knowledge base, and education tools needed for ongoing conservation and scientific work. More importantly, we will build up useful adaptive land management practices in conjunction with local land managers and policymakers.    

The Cordillera Blanca is a magnet for American climbers with over 33 peaks higher than 6000 meters and hundreds of 5000+ meter peaks. UNESCO declared this region—which includes Huascarán National Park (HNP)—critical enough to be designated the Huascarán Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Huascaran National Park is the first area of focus for this climber science expedition. We have already conducted a successful expedition in 2011 that gathered a great deal of useful data. Our work is in conjunction with many Peruvian stakeholders including local Universities, Park officials, and national Ministries and is responsive to their expressed needs for environmental information.

The directed goals of this Peru expedition, focused on integrated environmental assessment, are to:

• Devise cost-effective field protocols for climber-scientist research teams that include both US and Peruvian students, scientists, and climbers,

• Create and expand a baseline of data from which the planners, scientists and the Peruvian people can make informed decisions about their natural resources,

• Develop ongoing partnerships with local scientists and policy makers and gather data that survives peer reviews, can be practically used, and stimulates further work

• Educate the lay, education, and science communities through outreach to stimulate further work on mountain region adaptability.

In the Cordillera Blanca, at high elevations climber-scientists will take samples at designated intervals for key environmental indicators including CO2 concentrations, black carbon, and heavy metals deposition on the glaciers.  At lower elevations, CSP-Peru team members will investigate water quality as well as vegetation and biodiversity conditions for future ecological and remote sensing studies by gathering ‘ground truth’ data to compare to satellite images. Analysis of this data will be widely shared for building practical models that can help planners and educators devise ways to deal with diminishing supply and quality of water and altered seasonal patterns for agriculture, grazing, and other ecological services.

Our rationale for high elevation science? The 2012 and 2013 CSP-Peru expeditions will provide two critical and complimentary types of information not available at low altitudes—high elevation baselines and clarity. We will be working at the top of the watersheds, thus any information we gather is the natural baseline—which can be compared to established sampling efforts at lower elevations to determine the relative contributions of different land uses to shifts in water quality. By measuring various atmospheric components at high elevations, we escape the dirty air conditions of the more heavily populated lower lands and so are better able to evaluate large-scale trends without getting over-saturated by local conditions. High elevation environments are also early indicators of climate change and are highly sensitive to direct human impacts. Changes at high altitude can provide an early view of potential climate change impacts across lower altitude regions. As such, monitoring of environmental changes at high altitude will provide critical information for land mangers and policy makers. Importantly, research is exceptionally difficult in these often extreme environments. Scientific research is strongly limited by the lack of the technical skills necessary to access these locations and the expense and logistics involved in launching data collection campaigns in remote and/or extreme environments. Because climbers possess the expertise, the skills, and the desire to reach these places, they are exceptionally positioned to gather much needed information. 

We hope all AAC members will support this endeavor. The Club will accept tax-deductible (to the extent allowable by law) donations to be used to help fund U.S. and Peruvian students to accompany the expeditions—just send a donation to the AAC as normal but please designate it for the Climber Science Peru Expedition 2012 fund. 

We would like to offer our thanks for the great support we have already gotten from Outdoor Research, Boreal, Feathered Friends, and Black Diamond.

Finally, please follow the expedition and our results on the Climber Scientist Facebook Page.

—AAC Member John All


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