25.05.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Impact of Glacier Retreat in the Andes: International Multidisciplinary Network for Adaptation Strategies

© Héctor de Pereda Perito Moreno Glacier

Glaciers act as buffers. Water is released in years of low snowfall and retained as ice in years of heavy snowfall. Glaciers are key indicators and unique demonstrations of global warming and climate change. In the short term, shrinking glaciers add water to streamflow over and above annual precipitation and so increase water supply. In the longer term, however, glaciers are expected to disappear as an additional source of water, albeit very slowly.

In the Andes, runoff from glaciated basins is an important element of the regional water budget, and is essential to the integrity of mountain ecosystems. Many Andean valleys are seasonally dry and depend on glacier runoff to maintain extensive mountain biomes and their related biodiversity. Specifically, glaciers play an important role in freshwater regulation in associated watersheds, ensuring year-round water flows for agriculture, potable water, power generation, and the stability of mountain biomes.

Thus, glacier retreat in the Andes places in doubt the sustainability of current patterns of water use and ultimately the viability of the economies and ecologies of glaciated basins, and may also have wider impacts on the entire Andes region. The changes induced by tropical glacier retreat constitute an early case of the need for adaptation and therefore an example of the type and size of associated economic and social impacts caused by climate change.

The UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP), and Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme are working with Andean Members States to establish an international network in order to facilitate a dialogue between researchers and decision makers and identify research and policy needs, specifically:

  • integrate the knowledge on the impact of Climate Change on future availability of melt water from glaciers and its effects on biodiversity and land use, and
  • formulate strategies for underpinning future policy actions with regard to sustainable economic development.

To initiate this process a workshop was organized under the auspices of UNESCO-IHP and MAB in Lima, Peru, on 29-30 May 2012. The workshop should result in the development of a set of recommendations and plan of actions based on the interdisciplinary questions outlined below:

  • Climate change impacts on the cryosphere, hydrology and biodiversity linked to ecological and economic systems in the Andean region;
  • Policy and decision making for risk prediction and response network among countries and institution;
  • Education & Capacity building.

The workshop is organized in partnership with the FAO Mountain Partnership Secretariat, Consorcio para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Ecorregión Andina (CONDESAN), Andean Climate Change Interamerican Observatory Network (ACCION), Grupo de Trabajo de Nieves y Hielos (GTNH-IHP), and the Third Pole Environment (TPE).




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