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Climbers and Scientists Working Together in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Posted on: October 23rd, 2013 by The AAC

Dr. All and Jesus Gomez, the head of Huascaran National Park, flying the AAC flag from the summit of Vallunaraju (5,686m). Jesus joined the ACSP with two of his sons to climb the peak and help us collect snow and ice samples.

Dr. All and Jesus Gomez, the head of Huascaran National Park, flying the AAC flag from the summit of Vallunaraju (5,686m). Jesus joined the ACSP with two of his sons to climb the peak and help us collect snow and ice samples.

By John All & Ellen Lapham

Photos by ACSP team members    

Nearly 50 American Alpine Club members volunteered with the American Climber Science Program (ACSP) in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca this summer. For the past three years, the ACSP and AAC members have innovated new field research techniques examining environmental change on Huascaran National Park’s highest glaciated peaks, summiting peaks as high as Huascaran Sur (6,768m) to collect data. As a team, the ACSP spends three months each Peruvian winter in elevations from 12,000–20,000 feet working extensively with Peru’s scientists, academics, and planners during this conservation and research program.

The June ACSP team at Quilcayhuanca base camp after summits of Andavite and Maparaju, joined by scientists from Peru’s La Molina University.

The June ACSP team at Quilcayhuanca base camp after summits of Andavite and Maparaju, joined by scientists from Peru’s La Molina University.

The 2013 ACSP team was a diverse group—from 19 to 72 years old—hailing from the US, Peru, Australia, and England. Their differences were overshadowed by their common love of high places and solving problems, all made possible by the donation of their time, expertise, and funds to conduct this multi-faceted field research. One AAC member, Carrie Ann Bracco, summited her first big international alpine peak, Maparaju (5,326m), and in the process “was pushed to do more strenuous climbing because I had a goal to contribute to our science program.” 

During the 2013 expedition, the team: 

  • summited seven peaks on eighteen separate days

  • climbed more than 30,000 vertical feet

  • collected data for a range of research projects including water quality, vegetation change, and glacier recession

  • attempted Chacraraju, but a severe avalanche in which no one was hurt curtailed the ascent

  • collected several thousand vegetation photos as part of an effort to write and publish a book entitled “Flora of Huascaran National Park and the Cordillera Blanca”

Collecting samples on the summit ridge of Yanapaccha – a mountain whose route has changed dramatically from 2012 to 2013 as new crevasses made the old route inaccessible.

Collecting samples on the summit ridge of Yanapaccha – a mountain whose route has changed dramatically from 2012 to 2013 as new crevasses made the old route inaccessible.

The ASCP is based on the American Alpine Club spirit of carrying out critical environmental work in the places we climb and for the benefit of the people who live there. Since the AAC’s founding in 1902, geologists and explorers, such as AAC’s early President John Muir, brought light to the hard data underpinning the argument for conservation.  Today, in the 21st century, we climbers are dismayed by increasing glacier loss and rapidly changing and hazardous climbing conditions. Some of us—including the ACSP’s climbers and scientists—are moved to take action.

Our ASCP goals are to establish a solid and ongoing field research program in the world’s high mountain regions that are under climate stress. We have worked in the United States, the Himalayas, and the Andes during this important work.  We are currently focused on Peru because it contains 60% of the planet’s tropical glaciers and, with rapid development and staggering glacial loss, is facing big challenges to its way of life.

ACSP team  Photo credit: Clint Lewis

ACSP team collecting samples on the summit of Maparaju. Photo credit: Clinton Lewis

Our field work covers the full range of environmental factors, from CO2 concentrations to toxins in the water sources to vegetation changes as a result of warming. Everything we study can help Peru adapt. Plus, we work in collaboration with Huascaran National Park and Peru’s universities, so they leverage our knowledge, and we can build on their expertise.

Here is a selection of the twenty seven research projects that took place during the 2013 expedition:

  • Dr. Carl Schmitt, Dr. Rebecca Cole, and Dr. All presented early findings from the ACSP research program at two major international conferences: the FORO INTERNACIONAL GLACIARES (sponsored by the Peruvian government and had attendees from 19 countries) and at USAID’s GLACIAL FLOODING AND DISASTER RISK MANAGEMENT symposium for international mountain researchers.

  • Dr. Schmitt from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) wrote a study on “Measurements of dust and black carbon on the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca mountains of Peru.”

  • Dr. Cole from U.C. Boulder INSTAAR, wrote a study entitled “Arthropod communities across high elevation gradients in the tropical Andes”

  • Ulyana Horodyskyj from U.C. Boulder write a study entitled “Glacial lake bathymetry and volumetric fluctuations in the Central Andes of Peru.”

  • Kenny Wallen from Texas A&M, wrote a study entitled “Perceptions and observations of climate change among mountaineers in Huascaran National Park, Peru.”

  • Peter Nilsson from Touro University College of Medicine wrote a study entitled ‘Trends in SpO2, Pulse, and self-reported altitude illness in a population of expedition members in response to serial acclimatization events.’

  • Dr. All wrote a study entitled ‘Climate change impacts on vegetation and glacial extent from 1973 to 2013 in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru’

  • The ACSP is a signatory to the “Huaraz Declaration”—an international call from scientists and policymakers to re-emphasize the importance of glacial research and monitoring in the Andes and worldwide. The statement has been signed by representatives of numerous governments from countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, Switzerland, as well as other non-governmental organizations such as The Mountain Institute.

  • AAC member-scientists Dr. Adam French and Dr. Alton Byers presented their work on water challenges in Peru (Dr. French) and community empowerment in Nepal’s Everest region to deal with the changing environment (Dr. Byers) at the June FORO INTERNACIONAL GLACIARES conference.

After such a successful series of trips, we will expand the ASCP project in 2014, with expeditions in Costa Rica and Nepal in addition to returning to the Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

The AAC supports the ASCP’s goals and objectives. Interested in getting involved with the ASCP? Visit their website or learn more about the ASCP by visiting their blog.

 

 

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