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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Strengthening resilience of Andean river basin headwaters facing global change

PI: Bram Willems (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos)
U.S. Partner: Christopher Scott (University of Arizona)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2016

 Peru Master Students
Master's degree students involved in the project (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

Decreasing water availability in Andean river basins, rising temperatures, increased probabilities of drought occurrence, and expanding water demand all indicate that Peru will experience a severe future water crisis. This PEER Science project considers Andean headwaters, particularly páramos and puna wetlands, as socialecological systems (SESs) in which coupled natural and human processes like drought, flooding, water use and impoundment in reservoirs for irrigation, and mining act together to destabilize and threaten water availability and quality for human and ecosystem purposes. This project is expected to produce innovations in Andean headwaters characterization methodologies by combining use of satellite imagery (optical and radar), products derived from their analysis (e.g., land use and land cover change), and field data (e.g., precipitation, runoff, and water use, including socioeconomic characteristics). These methodologies will allow the researchers on the project to identify headwaters, quantify their extent, and define indicators for assessing their dynamics. In turn, cross-correlation analysis between these indicators and climatic and anthropogenic drivers, such as El Niño Southern Oscillation events and mining operations in headwaters, for instance, will lead to the establishment of characteristics that make Andean river basin headwaters vulnerable to global change. A second important contribution of the project will be the integrated assessment of Andean páramos and puna wetlands, which are far less studied than glaciers but play an even more crucial role in the hydrology of the majority of Peru’s Andean basins and hence in the provision of water to coastal regions. According to the Autoridad Nacional del Agua, glaciers play a primary hydrological role in Vilcanota (Cusco) and El Santa (Ancash) basins, whereas headwaters wetlands are far more pervasive but not adequately identified, much less assessed from a water management perspective.

The results of the project will include development of a satellite-based monitoring system for assessing biophysical changes in Andean headwaters and creation of case-study documentation of human dimensions of global and local changes affecting the headwaters regions of the basins, with particular emphasis on water use and quality degradation. Capacity-building activities as part of the Geophysics Masters's Program at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos will also be expanded.

Summary of Recent Activities
Since the project began in August 2013, the team has been focused on establishing a methodology using satellite images for identifying hydrologically active areas in the headwaters of several Peruvian rivers. They have been studying satellite maps of the Chancay-La Leche, Piura and Chillon river basins and using the images to create normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI) and normalized difference water indices (NDWI) maps. The social sciences specialists on the team have been working on collecting data from populations located near the headwater regions, giving special emphasis to the involvement and organization of women in water management in the region.
The Chillon watershed was recently added to the study because it is one of three water sources for Lima. Its headwaters are composed of puna wetlands, located on high plateaus characterized by aridity and extreme daily temperature fluctuations, so it provides an opportunity for comparisons with the more humid high tropical páramo vegetation systems of Piura and Chancay-La Leche. Chillon’s closeness to Lima also allows the project team to do more field work to collect ground data for validation. In conjunction with their field work, the team has also developed a questionnaire that they have used to collect important information by interviewing the local communities. The project team has started an active collaboration with PRODERN (Program of Sustainable Economic Development) of the Ministry of Environment, which is providing us a platform for interactions with the local governments in different provinces of Peru. In particular, the planned support tools used in the project are expected to contribute to the Environmental Observatory initiative of PRODERN, expanding outreach and impacts.

Peru Watershed 1
The research team working in the Chillon watershed region (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

Peru Watershed 2
The students take readings from the water and soil in the Chillon watershed (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

Dr. Willems has been holding virtual meetings with his U.S. partners from the University of Arizona on a periodic basis, and he plans to visit Tucson  in March 2014. After returning home he will lead an inception meeting including institutions such as CONDESAN (the Consortium for Sustainable Development in the Andean Ecoregion), the International Hydrological Program of UNESCO, the Mountain Institute, SENAMHI (National Meteorological and Hydrologic Service), the Peruvian Water Authority, and PRODERN. In addition, several student seminars are being planned on water topics.

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