Andes Research

Water, Glaciers, and Climate

Water, Glaciers, and Climate

Glacial lakes often form in valleys below melting glaciers.  The lakes closest to glacier tongues are usually the most dangerous and unstable, whereas ones like this in the Cordillera Blanca's Quebrada Honda is safe from outburst floods.

As climate change reduces glacier cover globally, people living near high mountains may see water supplies decline in the future.  Glaciers are critical for water supplies because they regulate annual flows: they release meltwater in the dry season when there is little precipitation. 

In Peru, concerns about shrinking glaciers and dwindling water supplies have increased dramatically because the country depends on hydroelectricity and because most of the population lives on the desert-like Pacific slope, where Lima's 8 million inhabitants live.  But, to date, there is extremely little research analyzing the societal dimensions of water management under a changing climate and beneath the melting glaciers.

Carey's research focuses on these societal aspects of water management in Peru.  He has worked with UC Santa Cruz Ph.D. candidate Adam French and Washington and Lee University graduate Elliott O'Brien to study a major 3-year water conflict between local communities and the US-based multinational hydroelectric company Duke Energy that has already arisen at Lake Parón.

Additionally, a three-year research project funded by the National Science Foundation involves collaboration with physical and human geographers to understand water from interdisciplinary perspectives throughout Peru's Santa River watershed—from Cordillera Blanca glaciers to the Pacific Ocean.  Carey's emphasis is on the Santa River's large-scale water users including hydroelectricity and agro-industrial irrigators in the Chavimochic and Chinecas coastal irrigation projects.  Project collaborators are glaciologist-hydrologist Bryan Mark at Ohio State University, geographer Jeffrey Bury at UC Santa Cruz, bio-geographer Kenneth Young at the University of Texas, Austin, and geoscientist Jeff McKenzie at McGill University. Read more about this project in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

Related Publications

Bury, Jeffrey, Bryan Mark, Mark Carey, Kenneth Young, Jeffrey McKenzie, Michel Baraer, Adam French, Molly Polk, and Kyung Huh. “New Geographies of Water and Climate Change in Peru: Coupled Natural and Social Transformations in the Santa River Watershed,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103, no. 2 (2013): 363–374.

Carey, Mark, Adam French, and Elliott O'Brien. "Unintended Effects of Technology on Climate Change Adaptation: An Historical Analysis of Water Conflicts below Andean Glaciers," Journal of Historical Geography 38, no. 2 (2012): 181-191.

Carey Mark, Michel Baraer, Bryan G. Mark, Adam French, Jeffrey Bury, Kenneth R. Young, and Jeffrey M. McKenzie, "Toward Hydro-Social Modeling: Merging Human Variables and the Social Sciences with Climate-Glacier Runoff Models (Santa River, Peru)," Journal of Hydrology (2013): DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.11.006.