My local perspective of TARN by Nicolas Montoya

It’s been a week since the TARN members flew back to their respective homes, and two since they astounded participants from all over the world at the FORO GLACIARES in Huaraz, Peru. Gossip tells that many experts approached the TARN professors to show their interest in being part of the team, and that even TARN students got asked for their data. In Lima, the capital, the FORO still appears in a few articles and conversations after two weeks. Apparently, part of the FORO’s goal has been accomplished, since people seem to be more interested than usual in climate change and the Cordillera Blanca in the country.

The local interest is essential for the wellbeing of the population in Huaraz, and perhaps even the rest of the Andean region and the coast (which gets big part of its water and energy from the Rio Santa). This was restated in a conference at UPAO (Universidad Privada Antenor Orrego), Trujillo, where Jeff Bury, Mark Carey, Adam French and Ken Young stunned the college students and local businessmen with the news of water scarcity for the new phase of Chavimochic project. The professors highlighted the importance of a stronger participation of Peruvian universities in the research fields and the integrated evaluation of these areas of study, just like TARN does impeccably.

The distinct thing about TARN, though, is that the group is indeed, as they say, a research family. That will be hard to top anywhere. The TARN project is successful not only because it features experts in almost every single relevant discipline, but also because these experts have developed a very enjoyable and unique work environment. Even when the big group is divided into micro teams, dream teams, to fulfill different duties, even then the chemistry within TARN can be perceived. For young Peruvians like me, who are called to make choices for the development of these regions, it is good to know that such a qualified group of professionals will be around for some more years.

The TARN crew about to head to the Quilcayhuanca fieldwork

Cañón del Pato by Kesley

The Cañón del Pato is the wide canyon carved by the Rio Santa as it descends from the Cordillera Blanca to the Pacific Ocean. Complete with 35 tunnels, the road through the canyon is carved into the canyon wall and was featured on a History Channel special titled “Most Dangerous Roads.” A series of bocatomas (intake structures to divert flow from the main river into another channel) withdraw water for various uses– hydroelectric power, reservoirs, and irrigation for agriculture.

One of the many tunnels along the Cañón del Pato road

The canyon is so narrow that a flood would be a dramatic sight. We pointed at stratigraphic lines on the opposite canyon wall, imagining how high the water had come (and may come again in the future). A flood of any significant magnitude would easily overcome the bocatomas.

We toured the Cañón del Pato hydroelectric facility operated by Duke Energy, which has a total capacity of over 265 MW. The morning we visited, four out of six turbines were in operation producing 80 MW of electricity. Electricity production oscillates during the day in accordance with demand. To generate electricity, water is channeled into a tunnel nine kilometers upstream from the facility. The pipeline runs through the wall of the canyon- an incredible feat of engineering. At the Cañón del Pato facility the water drops through vertical tunnels (seen on the left of the diagram below) spinning up to six massive turbines. As a product of the facility’s remoteness the turbines are cleaned and maintained on site.

The electricity generated is distributed throughout the upper valley to communities, mines, companies, and more. Like water distribution, electricity production and distribution involves many diverse stakeholders and actors. Both water and electricity are crucial for livelihoods and economies– as we learned today, the abundance (or lack) of both water and electricity crucially depends on the Rio Santa.

Quilcayhuanca round two! By Camila

On our second field trip to Quilcayhuanca we are accompanied by Ken Young and Molly Polk, the biogeographers of TARN. The day was spent in the valley, where we learned about the characteristics of peat and the research that Ken and Molly are doing in the Cordillera Blanca. Ken hypothesizes that there are 3 main factors that determine the plant communities in the Cordillera Blanca: elevation, moisture, and human impact. The human impact component in this valley is the most apparent factor that Ken mentioned. The sheer number cattle and sheep present in the area as well as the presence of Werneria, a native plant with poisonous leaves, indicates the large impact that overgrazing has had on the area.

Molly Polk and Nicolas Montoya setting up the plot

The majority of our time is spent getting our hands dirty as Molly walks us through a typical 1 square meter plot. We record a GPS point for the plot, measure the incline, measure the tallest plant, calculate the percent cover of each plant found on the plot, and lastly we take a soil sample. This whole procedure is only one component of Molly’s larger goal to answer questions of peat classification in the Cordillera Blanca and their changes over time.

Sampling the Santa by Colin

The Rio Santa sure looks different in the dry season than during the wet season. In March it was a angry torrent as far upriver as Catac, where it seemed intent on ripping out bridge pilings and dragging weak and inexperienced discharge measurers into its swirling depths. In Huaraz today, the Santa languidly slides down its channel, as if there was no hurry to reach the Pacific, which of course there isn’t, because the majority of water in the dry season is diverted into the irrigation canals of Chavimochic and Chinecas to grow the asparagus that you buy at the grocery store back in Ohio or wherever else.

No, in the dry season the Rio Santa stands out not for its current, but for its trash. In many riverfront communities the Santa is viewed as an all in one trash, recycling, and compost receptacle. Anything you dump in the river, you’re not likely to see again. If you miss the river, well, the raging flows of the rainy season will eventually carry it away. On this occasion, our sampling of the river did not concern trash, though the garbage could not be ignored. We were headed to the river just north of Huaraz to test the waters for trace metals, which don’t have the visibility of say, old shoes and styrofoam, but represent a significant hidden danger to those who use the water.

Trace metals or not, we first had to hike along the trash-strewn riverbed to our sampling site. Several trace metals including arsenic have been found in dangerous concentrations in different reaches of the Rio Santa. The Rio Santa watershed contains both natural and industrial sources of these contaminants. If you watch closely while driving up the Callejon de Huaylas, you will spot more than one mound of mine tailings in the floodplain, not to mention in higher parts of the watershed. The town of Ticapampa, for instance, coexists with two massive, eroding mounds mine tailings. A stream even flows between the two, carrying anything that leaches out of the mound directly to the Rio Santa. Meanwhile, on the other side of the mounds runs the highway, and directly across that are homes and businesses.

Back at our smelly site on the Santa, we spent six hours working, collecting the usual suite of samples for trace metals in the water, suspended sediment, and riverbed each hour. Results won’t be analyzed for a while, but the idea of this sampling was to see if trace metal concentrations in the water and sediments vary significantly throughout the day in the same location. For the sake of our sampling approach, I would hope that changes are minimal, but different results would be interesting.

In the end, our day working in the field was more like a day at the beach… a really disgusting beach, but a beach all the same. Our sampling went smoothly and we spent the time in between sunning ourselves on boulders and watching onions and plastic bags float by in the current. On our way back to the road, I spotted a dump truck disgorging a load of trash down the riverbank next to the bridge. I wonder if they appreciate the trash of Huaraz downriver in Carhuaz, Yungay, and Caraz? People in communities along the Rio Santa use its water for many purposes, and the cleanliness of the water should not be ignored if public health is regarded as an important priority.

Llanganuco and Laguna 69 by Colin

Driving into the Llanganuco Valley I felt like I was in an IMAX theater. The smooth, black cliffs were not just steep, they seemed to curve overhead like the lower walls of a dome. I’ve never been to Yosemite Valley, but I imagine Llanganuco looks a lot like it, only narrower. Of course they should share some similarities; both were carved by glaciers!

Past the teal, landslide-dammed lakes Chinancocha and Orconcocha we drove, winding through polylepis forest and cow pasture until we reached Cebolla Pampa, or actually about 40 meters above Cebolla Pampa by way of a steep rocky path. This would prove a significant energy drain on the way back, when we had to lug our gear uphill at the end of a long day of work. Cebolla Pampa is a pleasant grassy flat cut into ribbons by a braided stream. The single plank crossing the nearest branch of the stream gave my balance a test several times but failed to bring me down.

Our main study site at Llanganuco is in the upper pampa about 400-500 meters above Cebolla Pampa. The hike there takes about an hour and a half to two hours, steepening steadily along the way. The trail, well marked by both cairns and erosion, begins with an unexpectedly tiring stretch that doesn’t angle uphill enough to warrant switchbacks but is just the right grade to leave you wondering why you’re tired. The trail soon crosses some sort of outwash fan, which judging from the size of returning plants looks to be only a few decades old. The thought came to my mind that perhaps Cebolla Pampa may not be the best campsite during the rainy season.

Up past a waterfall the switchbacks begin. Trekkers and cows frequent this part of the trail, which may lead to some delays. The first time I hiked down the trail, a cow charged another cow that was only a few feet from us. Climbing the headwall of the hanging valley, the two peaks of Huascaran tower over the valley below. A second series of sharp switchbacks completes the climb, spitting hikers out next to a small tarn just above the pampa. Our group maintains several piezometers in the upper pampa to learn about groundwater flow through the pampa. One of them was missing its data logger when we visited, which was disappointing, but we downloaded the rest of them and bailed out the wells so we could sample them the next day.

On our second day in Llanganuco, four of us set off from the upper pampa to the popular Laguna 69. A strange name for a lake? Yes. This formerly proglacial lake was named (or numbered) during an inventory of glacial lakes in the Cordillera Blanca. Getting there meant climbing yet another series of switchbacks up a steep slope. When we arrived on at the top of the ridge, the lake that awaited us displayed an incredible shade of blue. We took one good look before science called, then clambered down the dry outwash channel looking for the emergence of the stream and a place to sample the water.

We attracted some stares from trekkers 10 meters above on the hiking trail as we went about our work. Perhaps they thought a guy with shoulder length gloves struggling to filter water into a bottle as three other people crowded around was a strange sight to see in a gully high up in the Andes. Back at the lake, we witnessed a strange sight of our own: a cow was wandering along the lakeshore, posing for photos with opportunistic trekkers. We were far too serious to take a photo with the cow.

Glaciers line the tops of the cliffs and scree slopes that surround the lake. White rock, white ice, white clouds, and a very blue lake greeted us from the shore. Wind and a dash of frozen precipitation prevented us from staying at Laguna 69 for too long, but I will remember it as a beautiful lake and a top rate sampling location.

Down the switchbacks we trudged, punishing our knees for all of the good uphill work they’d been doing all day. Back at the pampa a sign pointed to the trail to Broggi Lake, our next stop. Shortly after the turnoff two of our group peeled off due to some discomfort at the elevation. Kelsey and I steeled ourselves for the rest of the journey, aware that we needed at least two people to complete the sampling. No more casualties allowed. As it turned out, the trail was the next casualty. If there is a man-made trail all the way to Broggi Lake, it doesn’t compete very well with cow trails, rocks, plants, etc. Having seen the lake from high up on the trail to Laguna 69, we were aware that whatever rut we were following was as likely to take us to the top of Chacraraju as it was to lead us to Broggi Lake. A rewarding cross country scramble ensued, culminating in reaching a high moraine ridge that gave us a view of Broggi Lake, and promised a difficult walk down to it over a field of surprisingly wobbly boulders.

Ankles thankfully intact, we reached the lake and were greeted by a wave of cold rain. Once three water samples from the lake outlet were bottled, we didn’t linger at the lake. Broggi Lake is just a memory of Broggi Glacier, which used to fill part of the valley. However, a warming climate is not kind to any glacier in the Cordillera Blanca whose accumulation area is well below the 5000 meter mark, and so Broggi Glacier is gone today. Broggi Glacier, named after Peruvian Jorge Broggi, is one of two glaciers in the Llanganuco Valley named after glaciologists. The Austrian, Hans Kinzl, whose glacier still flows down from the flanks of Huascaran several kilometers away, seems to have gotten the better half of the deal.

It had taken several hours, but by the time we left Broggi Lake we had water samples from two of the main water sources in the valley. We followed a ravine down to the pampa and made a beeline for Cebolla Pampa, where a late lunch, heavy equipment, and the promise of a long bus ride back to the comfort of Huaraz awaited.

Foro Internacional de Glaciares by Camila


For three days field work must be put on hold as the team participates in the Foro Internacional de Glaciares. Though many would rather play outside, the Foro has been a good place for people around the world to share research and knowledge on glacier recession, glacier hazards, and social vulnerability. Mark Carey gave a keynote address on July 1st and Jeff Bury, Jeff McKenzie, Bryan Mark, and Michel Baraer gave presentations for various focus groups. In addition, the team has presented a number of posters. Needless to say, the TARN team was well represented at the Foro! For more information on the Foro, visit

Jeff M. is live tweeting the conference! Are you following @TARNUpdates ?

48 hours party 2013 by Colin Sinclair

I had heard stories about the 48 hour party since I started at Ohio State last summer. I’ll admit that the idea of a 48 hour party was intriguing, and perhaps a bit painful. The talk of 2-5 AM shifts had the sound of cruel and unusual punishment. The overnight shifts never materialized, however. The final plan involved manning the infrared camera from 1 PM to 10 PM, with an overnight break before resuming at 6 AM and continuing to 1 PM. Photos of one of the glaciers behind Cuchillacocha were to be taken every 15 minutes. Once every 30 minutes qualified as acceptable but not ideal. Once every hour would be considered “scandalous”. The photos would become part of a large collection of atmospheric and hydrologic data taken in the Cuchillacocha basin over a 24 hour period.

Being behind the camera was not particularly demanding. Once every 15 minutes the camera operator would insert the battery, turn on the camera, focus on the glacier above the lake, and take and save a photo. The time between photos was spent acquiring sunburn or shivering, depending on the hour of the day.

By the time my first camera shift began, the sun had disappeared behind a distant ridge. It was after 6 PM, which usually means one thing for researchers still out and about: get back to camp. Instead I climbed the short scree slope with a thermos of hot water in one hand, setting three glowsticks up on rocks to light the way, albeit dimly.

Blundering my way past the cairns we’d built along the ridge earlier in the day, I showed up at the camera site, where Camila waited, surprisingly upbeat considering the simultaneous darkening sky and plummeting temperature. The next two hours were cold, but flew by. I demonstrated my mechanical ineptitude by consistently failing to figure out the correct method to remove the battery from the camera. Camila joined in the effort with more success, though between the two of us several fingernails paid a heavy price. On the plus side, this continuous struggle kept me a little bit warmer, probably simply from embarrassment.

Once the stars came out the setting was brilliant. Perched in a rocky hollow on the side of a massive moraine, we had enjoyed a view, while the sun still shone, of the alarmingly green Lago Cuchilla (Cuchillacocha) and the glaciers crouching above it. After nightfall, the ice and sky became the major elements of the view before us. Sure, the only constellation we recognized was the Southern Cross, but that could not dim the wonder of the star-speckled night sky. The eerie rumble of distant icefalls was the only sound apart from a light breeze rustling through tussock grasses and threading between rocks. It was a magical spot, and only the growing cold, seeping up through my fingers towards the rest of my body could persuade me that dinner, hot drinks, and sleep were the best options for the rest of my night.

At 4:55 AM I was awake and preparing for round two of infrared photography. Taking down my frost-covered tent created enough noise to save me the trouble of waking Dorian, who I was to share a shift with. We had chosen the 6 AM to whenever-anyone-else-managed-to-get-up-to-the-lake shift, which would begin in moonlight and the coldest temperatures of the night.

Stunningly we didn’t get lost on the half hour hike up to the camera, and even made it on time. Seeing the glow sticks still glowing bright came as a welcome sight. Our shift saw the sky lighten and sunlight splash across the ridges jutting up along the horizon. The initial heat we generated hiking slowly abandoned us, as did the feeling in my toes. The sun couldn’t come soon enough, but even by 8:00 it was only creeping down the moraine across the ridge. When would the sun peek over the ridge to restore our vitality? 9:00, guessed Dorian. 9:15, I thought. Thankfully we were both wrong, as the first rays relieved us at 8:34. Upon the sun’s arrival we let out a cry loud enough to trigger an icefall (just take my word for it). Soon, the rest of the team showed up, and Kelsey replaced me at the camera. My part in the party was over, but would not soon be forgotten. I took photos, a glow stick, and severely chapped lips along with me as souvenirs.

Our first few days (by Camila Bobroff, Anna Medina, and Kelsey Ward)

June 21, 2013

De la Costa a las Montañas

After loading the bus with more duffle bags than people, we were on route to Huaraz. Our eight-hour journey was highlighted by a stop along the road to sample water quality on the Rio Chillon. Although the severity of the contamination was evidenced by its landfill appearance, the hydro-team from Ohio State and McGill University seek to analyze varying effects of mining, glacier recession and increased consumption.

Beyond Lima’s limits, urban sprawl takes over the desert. With little vegetation due to the lack of precipitation and local water sources, it is evident the millions who settle on Peru’s coast are sustained by water supplied from the Andes. These relationships, however, are threatened by climate change and growing demands. Our team seeks to better understand these dependencies and potential adaptation strategies for vulnerable communities.

June 22, 2013

What Up Huaraz?

This morning we sipped coffee on the rooftop balcony while overlooking some of the highest peaks in the Southern Hemisphere looming on the horizon. The jagged spires, stacked with ice are dramatic and quite a contrast from the Sierras and Cascades that we west-coasters are used to. Huaraz and the surrounding Cordillera Blanca is a Mecca for recreational trekkers as well as world-class alpinists.

Huaraz is a city filled with construction projects. The lack of old architecture is a consequence of a history marked by natural disasters such as the 1941 glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) and the major terremoto in 1970, which leveled the city. Construction projects, however, are not limited to rebuilding houses. In recent years, Huaraz has seen an increase in paving projects and other construction due to the influx of mining royalty taxes. Mining projects are also another important user of water in the region as most new large-scale mines are engaged in cyanide leaching.