Thursday, January 24, 2019

New paper: birds & glaciers at Quelccaya


Important scientific information has been emerging from research at Quelccaya Ice Cap for nearly 50 years, from ice core records, glacial geology studies, and meteorological measurements. In recent years, research has also yielded new biological findings, revealing the importance of glaciers to the lives of birds in the High Andes.

We published a paper in 2008 documenting nesting on glacier ice at Quelccaya by White-winged Diuca-Finches. Diucas are a medium-size tanager species found in the High Andes of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, and prior to our new publication were the only bird known to routinely build nests directly on glacier ice. This species is also among the highest-elevation nesting species in the world to at least 5400 meters (18,000 feet) – despite an environment with average temperatures below freezing, high winds, frequent snowfall, and intense solar radiation.

Our paper in the latest Wilson Journal of Ornithology provides new details on this unique behavior. Ten years of additional observations include fieldwork at Quelccaya outside the core dry season, culminating in 2 weeks at the glacier in 2016 filming a Diuca nest with 2 chicks. Besides observations of multiple active nests, the paper also documents glacier nesting by another species, the White-fronted Ground-Tyrant, and describes nocturnal roosting within or under a glacier by 5 different species. The publication includes an online Supplement (also available here) containing additional images, and links to the BBC/PBS film.

Nesting and roosting on glaciers are adaptations to the harsh environment at high elevations in the Andes, as cavities within the ice provide both a protected microclimate and protection from predators. Are glaciers important to other species, elsewhere? What happens when the glaciers are gone, victims of climate change?

Andean glaciers are shrinking rapidly, and even the largest are likely to disappear this century. Although undocumented until only 10 years ago, the lives of several bird species appear to be dependent upon these glaciers. Their loss may have a direct, negative effect on biodiversity of the High Andes - in addition to other impacts, such as water resources.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Seasonal change

The second half of September at Quelccaya is typically characterized by increasing snowfall, as the dry season concludes. Cloudiness increases rapidly at this time of year, as evidenced and measured by sharply increasing longwave radiation receipt. Air temperature continues a steady increase into November.

These aspects of Quelccaya climate are illustrated by the 2 images below, acquired by Senitinel-2 only 5 days apart. On 27 September (upper image), fresh snow is evident at higher elevations of the Vilcanota, particularly on glaciers and eastern portions of this scene. By 2 October (through high thin clouds), fresh snow had ablated from the landscape (middle image). Lower elevations of Quelccaya Ice Cap also become snow-free, revealing the transient snowline (also see lower image).

Further evidence of this seasonal change in climate is provided by the lower image - an enlargement of yesterday's image - showing the apparent disappearance of ice cover from a marginal lake (circled). In July this ice was thick enough to support a person walking across the lake.

 



Friday, September 7, 2018

Return from fieldwork, forthcoming papers [updated]


August fieldwork was successful and fun, despite rather unstable weather. Considerable dry-season snow blanketed south-facing slopes and the entire glacier, yet little new snow occurred during our ~10 days at Quelccaya. The panorama above shows Boulder Lake and one lobe of the glacier where we have conducted observations since 2003; Lonnie Thompson has worked here since 1974. More photos and details of recent fieldwork will be posted in the next week or two.

A variety of new papers will soon be available, so look for links on this website. As indicated below, some are closer to publication than others...

[UPDATE 10/16] Yarleque, C., M. Vuille, D.R. Hardy, O.E. Timm, J. De la Cruz, H. Ramos, and A. Rabatel. Projections of the future disappearance of the Quelccaya Ice Cap in the Central Andes. 2018. Scientific Reports. To be freely available on 22 October from Nature!

Hardy, S.P., D.R. Hardy, and K. Castañeda Gil. Avian nesting and roosting on glaciers at high elevation, Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru. Accepted 20 Aug. for Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

Hurley, J.V., M. Vuille, and D.R. Hardy. On the interpretation of the ENSO signal embedded in the stable isotopic composition of Quelccaya Ice Cap, Peru. Submitted to JGR-Atmospheres.

Yarleque, C., M. Vuille, D.R. Hardy, O.E. Timm, and H. Ramos, Future projections of precipitation variability over the eastern Central Andes. Submitted to Frontiers.

Chadwell, C.D., D.R. Hardy, C. Braun, and H.H. Brecher. Thinning of the Quelccaya Ice Cap over the last thirty years. In revision/reorganization.

Hardy, D.R., R.S. Bradley, et al. The summit climate of Quelccaya Ice Cap. In preparation.





Thursday, August 9, 2018

More snow this week


As forecast by SENAMHI, the Vilcanota has received more snow. The Sentinel-2 image from yesterday shows snowcover surrounding Sibinacocha, as well as the area around the hamlet of Phinaya.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

weather forecast: more of the same

The weather forecast for today and tomorrow from SENAMHI calls for rain and snow of moderate to strong intensity in the mountains, with hail expected above 3,000 m; wind gusts to 45 km/hr.

Quelccaya's location here is indicated by the red circle. "Danger Level 3"


And it appears the forecast was accurate, with restricted travel...


#TVPerúInforma

Saturday, August 4, 2018

August begins snowy


Sentinel-2 acquired an image of the Cordillera Vilcanota yesterday, 11 days since their previously-published image (via EO Browser)... and fresh snowcover is still widespread.

Compare these two identical scenes, from 3 August (upper) and the last time snowcover was restricted to the highest elevations, on 30 May (lower) - two months ago!

The community of Phinaya, where many alpaca and llama herders are based, is located within the red circle. During June and July, snowcover appears to have been only occasional at this elevation. The smaller red hexagon is the Quelccaya weather station location (5,680 m), illustrating that the transient snowline has remained below the glacier margin (approx. 5,300 m) since May.

Fieldwork begins in a week!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

¡Tanta nieve! So much snow! [updated x2]


The snowy dry season of 2018 continues in the Cordillera Vilcanota. Yesterday's Sentinel-2 image (above) reveals a landscape blanketed by snow above 4500-4700 m. Quelccaya Ice Cap (lower right) is difficult to delineate, suggesting substantial accumulation at the margin. Hopefully our instrumentation continues to record hourly snowfall at the summit.

Note the variation in color of lakes just west of the glacier, surrounding the area of our camp (labeled). This reflects varying suspended sediment input, with relatively high concentrations apparently flowing into the Qori Kalis proglacial lake (north of camp); snow is accumulating, while also melting and delivering sediment to the lakes. The 'double' lake to the northwest of camp (and Sibinacocha) appear dark blue, as upstream wetlands (bofedales) filter sediment from freshly-exposed areas proximal to the glaciers.

We will be in the area during the second half of August, measuring snow and recovering weather station data. Fieldwork will occur later than normal, allowing an assessment of what appears to be an anomalous year. Although this snow will be beneficial to glacier mass balance, the toll on camelids (llama, alpaca) could be severe - without warming solar radiation typical of the dry season.


[UPDATE 7/26: A press release from SENAMHI* earlier this week (23 July) describes snowfall in the preceding 72 hours above 3,800 m in the Andes, accumulating to 20 cm. In conjunction with clouds, they warn of low temperatures and prolonged snowcover reducing food for livestock.

Gustavo Valdivia wrote yesterday learning details of the situation in the Cordillera Vilcanota. He received a call from the Phinaya community president, who described the situation as critical, because a lot of alpacas died in recent days. The local people agree that the weather is very unusual.

Press releases from SENAMHI can be found here (in Spanish), with a machine translation  here


*SENAMHI is The National Meteorology and Hydrology Service of Peru or El Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología del Perú]

[UPDATE 7/27:  Today I learned from Bronwen Konecky (Washington University) that SENAMHI is making daily meteorological summaries available on their website. The closest station to Quelccaya - and one of their highest - is Sibinacocha, at ~4890 m (labeled on map above). These data show 11 mm of water equivalent precipitation on 21 July, followed by 5.9 on the 22nd. Since this automated station is located at the southern end of the lake, the image above suggests that considerably more snow fell at higher elevations. The regional nature of this event is demonstrated by daily totals from Sicuani (~3600 m, 45 km to the SW); very similar daily totals were recorded.

To access any SENAMHI data in Peru, go here, then use the "Seleccionar" button to select a District; zoom in on the map. Thanks, SENAMHI.]