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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
January through March 2015 (the summer holiday period on the Peruvian academic calendar) was a very busy time for Dr. Willems and his students. As part of their collaborative efforts with the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD), Dr. Raul Espinoza, a postdoc involved in the PEER project through complementary funding provided by CONCYTEC (the Peruvian science council), measured streamflow and sediment discharge at various Amazon foothill hydrological stations from January 24 through February 10. From March 6 through 11, students Rossi Taboada (social scientist), Martín Leyva (geophysicist), and Mervin Becerra (soil scientist) did their fieldwork in the district of San Juan de Licupís, located in the higher part of the Chancay-Lambayeque basin. During their visit, the team collected information regarding the population’s access to water, its management and conflicts, and the importance of direct water sources, such as La Montaña's lake. They also visited the lake to collect soil samples for lab analysis, take GPS readings, and interview local citizens and officials.

Members of this PEER team are also collaborating with the USAID-funded PARA-Agua Initiative led by the Mountain Institute. They attended the workshop “Climate change impacts, adaptation, risk management and weather: Data analysis and change scenarios,” held January 14, 2015. Student Gisell Carbajal participated in the workshop “Maproom creation for the National Drought Observatory” January 27-29, 2015, as part of the collaboration between the PEER project and the National Drought Observatory initiative led by the National Water Authority (a PEER partner institution) and UNESCO-IHP. In addition, several of Dr. Willems’s students attended the course “Global Change in Mountains,” which was held February 2-27, 2015, by fellow PEER PI Dr. Pablo Lagos within the framework of his project “Glacier retreat and water resource sustainability in the Peruvian Andes: informing adaptation strategies through collaborative science.”

As for upcoming plans, Dr. Willems and his partners from the French IRD and the Peruvian Geophysics Institute plan to conduct field campaigns in the headwaters areas of the Cachi and Chillón basins. These campaigns will include lake sediment studies to establish the presence of minerals and aging, use of isotopic tracers to establish the contribution of rain and rivers to the water content of wetlands, soil property analysis, and spectral measurements of soilwater-vegetation. As part of the activities, training and workshops will be organized with local partner universities and governmental institutions to further build their capacities. These activities will be linked to the initiatives of the Ministry of Environment towards establishing carbon content in Andean wetlands, so the PEER project will provide scientific data and information in that regard. By the end of May 2015, student Megan Mills-Novoa of the University of Arizona will come to Peru to do her fieldwork in the Piura basin. In July, Dr. Willems and his group will organize their annual workshop in Piura, which will involve local universities, NGOs, governmental institutions, and organizations that use water.

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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