Project: The impact of glacier retreat in the Andes

International Multidisciplinary Network for Adaptation Strategies
International Hydrological Programme - Division of Water Sciences

The context

The Andes –the world longest continental mountain range– extend in South America through seven different countries, namely Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The population of these countries account for more than 160 million people, which represents more than 40% of the continent’s total population. Many Andean valleys are seasonally dry and glacier runoff is crucial to maintain a more constant flow of fresh water throughout the year. In fact, much of the snow falling is initially stored as ice in mountain glaciers, before being gradually released over time. Therefore, glaciers act as critical buffers against highly seasonal precipitation and provide water for domestic, agricultural and industrial use during the dry season.

However, climate change over the 20th century, especially global warming, has led to Andean glaciers increasingly being out of equilibrium with their current climate. As a result, rapid glacier retreat has been observed in every country of the Andean region. The trend has intensified since the 1990s, as temperature rise has accelerated, and projections for the 21st century confirm this tendency. Several studies indicate that for the end of the century Andean temperature will be significantly warmer and exhibit a much larger interannual variability. These climate changes will affect environmental services, biodiversity and socioeconomic activity in every country of the region.

It is clear that adaptation strategies should be implemented without delay from a multidisciplinary approach, yet at the same time the scientific knowledge is not really sufficiently advanced to adequately guide such implementations.

Mission statement

The project aims at establishing an international multidisciplinary network which will help to enhance resilience to changes, particularly climate change, through improved understanding of vulnerabilities, opportunities and potentials for adaptation.


  • Raise awareness and enhance capacities to assess, monitor and communicate the impacts of and responses to climate change on natural and socio-economic environments at local, national and regional level.
  • Develop strategies and policy guidelines considering vulnerabilities, opportunities and potentials for adaptation, with particular reference to strengthening the role of local communities.
  • Facilitate and strengthen on-going research activities in the region.
  • Provide education and training at tertiary level, middle technical level and review and strengthen community education.

Activities 2012-2014

Inception Workshop (2012)

An initial workshop was organized in Lima, Peru on May 29-30, 2012, involving glaciologists, hydrologists, water resources experts, mountain biosphere managers, policy–makers, social scientists, local stakeholders and experts from UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) and Man and the Biosphere (MAB) networks. The objective was to ensure that local stakeholders understand the global context of the project and could present, discuss and bring in their own knowledge, needs, and expectations. The workshop came up with key recommendations for policy advisers and decision makers of Andean countries:

  • Evaluate the regulatory role of glaciers in the region.
  • Raise awareness through education, training and dissemination of information.
  • Promote dialogue and collaboration among scientists, decision makers and affected communities, as well as coordinate existing initiatives in the region.

Field course on glacier monitoring and mass balance (2012)

A field course on glacier monitoring and mass balance was organized in Valdivia, Chile, from August 27 to September 1, 2012, in cooperation with other on-going efforts and existing networks: the Working Group on Snow and Ice of UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (GTNH-IHP) and the Andean Climate Change Inter-American Observatory Network (ACCION). 

During the field course, 35 participants from seven Andean countries gathered to discuss advances on glacier mass balance assessment in each country and to receive further capacitation in the more recent measuring methods.

Upcoming activities

© Flickr/Stuck in custom

  • Climate trend analysis and downscaling of climate scenarios (2013)
  • Vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy development (2013-2014)
  • Outreach (2012-2014)
    Outreach will involve dissemination of scientific results to policy and decision makers, water managers and stakeholders as well as affected local populations. Programme linkages will be established with on-going efforts and networks which could share scientific information and data but also exchange ideas and concerns and learn about the local perceptions of environmental changes.
  • Final synthesis workshop (2014)
    The final synthesis workshop will review project outcomes and will prepare a set of recommendations.

Expected results

  • Human and institutional capacities strengthened to cope with climate change impacts in the Andean region.
  • Distribution of climate scenarios and water availability and demand for current and future period scenarios of water stress.
  • Identification of most vulnerable communities in the region, studies on drivers of vulnerability and development of adaptation strategies at the local and regional level to improve livelihoods.

Implementation of the project will be undertaken in close coordination and collaboration with other existing initiatives in the Andean region. As such, the project is designed to complement the emerging endeavour to improve knowledge on climate change impact and adaptation in the Andean region.


  • Andean Climate Change Inter-American Observatory Network (ACCION)
  • Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Region (CONDESAN)
  • Mountain Partnership Secretariat – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • Working Group on Snow and Ice – International Hydrological Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean (GTNH-LAC)

Participating countries

Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and partners from the region.



International Hydrological Programme (IHP)
Division of Water SciencesUNESCO/Natural Sciences Sector

Man and the Biosphere (MAB)
Division of Ecological Sciences
UNESCO/Natural Sciences Sector

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