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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

Project Website:
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.

Peru Partnership 3
Participants in the Cajamarca congress with PI Bram Willems and U.S. partner Christopher Scott in the middle row (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

2-359 Project team at La Montanas Lake
The project team and guides pose near La Montaña’s lake. (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

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
The U.S. partner on this project, Dr. Christopher Scott, visited Peru during the second week of July 2015 and joined the activities of the PEER team in Piura, where field works were carried out and the second annual project workshop took place. The workshop attracted the participation of local researchers, representatives of the Regional Government, water users’ organizations, NGOs, companies, and other stakeholders. During the visit, Dr. Scott, Dr. Willems, and the project team also met representatives of governmental institutions and water users' organizations to build on collaborations initiated in 2013. Students Rossi Taboada, Gisell Carbajal, and Mervin Becerra joined Megan Mills-Novoa (a University of Arizona Master’s student who is doing her thesis research under the guidance of Dr. Scott) for several weeks of field work in Piura and Lambayeque. The team interviewed local farmers and organizations and collected soil, vegetation, and water samples. Under the guidance of PEER postdoc Dr. Raúl Espinoza, students Yonatan Tarazona, Jorge García, Joel Morales, and Verónica Vílchez carried out field studies regarding land degradation in the lower parts of the Piura and Chira basins. These studies were aimed at validating the land degradation maps developed by the team using satellite images. In August 2015, student Rossi Taboada was invited to present her research work at the SEPIA congress in Arequipa.

The PI Dr. Willems visited the United States September 9-18 to take part in several meetings and workshops. First, he made presentations on his project at the headquarters of USAID and the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. Additional meetings were held with staff from the USAID GeoCenter to discuss possible collaboration on the assessment of potential case-study basins for the new climate change flagship program being implemented by the USAID mission in Lima. As part of this collaboration, Dr. Willems' team is providing satellite products they have developed to complement the data and information of the GeoCenter. During the next stage of his trip, Dr. Willems met with staff from the Arid Lands Institute and the City of Los Angeles to discuss potential collaborations. Finally, he attended workshops in Tucson organized by his partners from the University of Arizona.

Since August 2015, Dr. Willems’ team includes two new members: Verónica Vílchez and Joel Morales. Both finished their undergraduate studies in agronomy and are working with the local team of the Pedro Ruíz Gallo University in Lambayeque, under the guidance of Prof. Eleazar Rufasto. The PEER team is continuously updating the Agua-Andes webpage ( with reports about their activities. As of October 2015, two articles have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals. In addition, student Jaime Aguilar defended successfully his Master’s thesis. He will be involved in the PEER project as he continues on in his doctoral training. The team will continue their field studies during the next six months. In October 2015, a field campaign will be carried out in the headwaters of the Cachi River in Ayacucho, together with the team from the local university and French researchers. Back-to-back workshops and training sessions are being organized by the PEER team at the local university, as well as a congress that will count on the participation of speakers from academia and governmental institutions. It is expected that students Rossi Taboada, Yonatan Tarazona, Martín Leyva, and Jorge García will defend their thesis works during the first trimester of 2016. A pilot version of the team’s headwaters monitoring system is planned to be operational by the end of November. As mentioned in previous reports, one of the outcomes of the PEER project is the implementation of a new research center: the Water Competence Center (CCA). Dr. Willems’ proposal to the Centers of Excellence contest of the National Science Council of Peru has been selected as a finalist to proceed to the second round of the competition. By the end of October he will present the full proposal, including a research plan and business and organization models.

Peru Partnership 5
A view up the trail during the field trip to the Chancay-La Leche Basin (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

Peru Partnership 6
A group photo of participants in the Cajamarca field trip surrounding Dr. Willems, center (Photo courtesy Dr. Willems).

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