National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Development, Security, and Cooperation
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About DSC
Quick Links

FREE Reports     

Download free PDFs of
ALL Academy Reports

All reports available on the National Academies Press (NAP) website are now offered free of charge to web visitors.

Contact us

The National Academies
500 5th St NW - KWS 502
Washington, DC 20001

Tel: (202) 334-2800
Fax: (202) 334-2139


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
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).

Peru Partnership 4
The entrance to the international congress at the National University of Cajamarca (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
PI Bram Willems traveled to the University of Arizona March 22-29, 2014, where he held several meetings with researchers and collaborators on the project, presented results in workshops, and made a field visit to the Tucson basin. Shortly thereafter, his U.S. partner Dr. Christopher Scott visited Peru, where he participated in several activities in Lima and joined the team to Cajamarca for more workshops and field trips (April 3-9). In conjunction with Dr. Scott’s visit, what had originally been planned as a project inception meeting for 20-25 people became instead a three-day international congress with venues in both Lima and Cajamarca. It attracted an average of 400 attendees per day, including outstanding researchers from Peru and abroad (Germany, Belgium, Argentina, Chile, and the United States) and representatives from the Peruvian National Water Authority and the Ministry of Environment. The International Congress: “Challenges for an integrated management of Andean basins facing global change” was awarded status as a “Lima COP-20 event” by the Ministry of Environment, as Lima is hosting the Conference of Parties this year.

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).

On the research side, a two-day field trip to the headwaters of the Chancay-La Leche basin in Cajamarca was taken immediately following the conclusion of the international congress. GPS ground-truthing points were collected along with information about different land cover types in the area. The data will be used to validate land use maps of the study area. In terms of outreach, the social-sciences members of the team held informational meetings with representatives of government institutions and non-governmental organizations in Lima and Cajamarca. Partnerships are also being formed with other research groups currently studying the headwaters of the Chancay and Piura basins, including those based at the Mountain Institute, Katholieke Universiteit of Belgium, and Freie Universität Berlin. One of Dr. Willems’ students has created a web page at <> and will further develop it with social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) to serve as a platform for presenting the results of the project, as well as publications pertaining to headwaters and water management. On the capacity-building side, two new Master’s students have joined the project, along with a postdoc whose support is being provided by the Peruvian Science and Technology Council. One of the new Master’s students, Mervin Becerra, participated in the “Professional Development Seminar on Modeling Strategies and Decision-Support Tools for the Management of Complex Socio-Ecological Systems,” held March 24-28 in Antigua, Guatemala. Another student, Rossi Taboada, took a 10-day course on management of socioecological systems for decision support, which was organized in Morelia, Mexico, February 23-March 8.
The project is in the process of expanding its scope by establishing a partnership with PRODERN, the Program of Sustainable Economic Development of the Peruvian Ministry of Environment. This partnership is expected to give the PEER project team access to a fourth headwater area in Huancavelica, where the wetland systems of Lake Choclococha are to be studied. Dr. Willems is traveling to Europe (Belgium and Germany) in September-October 2014 to hold workshops with the teams of the CASCUS II and TEAM projects in order to advance the synergistic work established with these new partners. Later in the fall, he and his group will co-organize the XII Latin American Soil Physics School (ELAFIS), which will be held November 17-28, 2014, in Lima, Peru. The organizing committee additionally involves the Agrarian University of La Molina (UNALM), Pedro Ruíz Gallo University of Lambayeque, University of Gent (Belgium), Universidad Central (Venezuela), and the UNESCO-IHP. Relying on NSF supplemental funding from NSF, Dr. Scott and some of his students are planning to come to Peru during the first semester of 2015 for workshops and field seminars/trips.
Back to PEER Cycle 2 Grant Recipients