Rock Glaciers and Climate Change in the Bolivian Andes: Mapping new water resources | Effects Of Global Warming | Global Warming

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Climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide, and the vulnerability and sensitivity of glaciers in the Bolivian Andes is a warning indicator for mountain regions in other areas. Reduced water security is projected for the Bolivian Andes due to an expected increase in demand and a decline in the supply of water. In turn, this will have an impact on food security, power generation and livelihoods. Rock glaciers are protected under rock formations and can sometimes play an important role in long-term water storage. They should be factored into water management and climate change adaptation strategies. This report describes research to create the first rock glacier inventory for Bolivia, and highlights the need to prioritize the preservation of areas where rock glaciers are located in the interests of water security for vulnerable populations. The inventory could also be used to protect rock glaciers from the effects of mining activity, and the report suggests that legislation should be encouraged in Bolivia to guarantee the protection of glaciers, along with the conservation and restoration of wetlands and other ecosystems crucial to water storage and supply and ultimately, to the achievement of the human right to water.
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  OXFAM RESEARCH REPORTS APRIL 2015 Oxfam Research Reports  are written to share research results, to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy and practice. They do not necessarily reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam.  ROCK GLACIERS AND CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE BOLIVIAN ANDES Mapping new water resources SALLY RANGECROFT UNIVERSITY OF EXETER Climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide and the vulnerability and sensitivity of glaciers in the Bolivian Andes mean that they can be seen as a warning ecosystem for mountain regions in other areas. Rock glaciers are protected under rock formations and can play an important role in long-term water storage. They should be factored into water management and climate change adaptation strategies. This report describes research to create the first rock glacier inventory for Bolivia, and highlights the need to prioritize the preservation of areas where rock glaciers are located in the interests of water security for vulnerable populations.  2 Rock Glaciers and Climate Change in the Bolivian Andes: Mapping new water resources CONTENTS Executive summary .......................................................................................................... 3 1 Introduction ................................................................................................................... 4 2 Rock glaciers ................................................................................................................ 6 3 Rock glacier inventory ................................................................................................... 8 4 the Importance of rock glaciers as water stores ............................................................ 9 5 the Impact of climate change on rock glaciers ............................................................. 12 6 Summary and final remarks ........................................................................................ 13 References .................................................................................................................... 14  Rock Glaciers and Climate Change in the Bolivian Andes: Mapping new water resources 3 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Reduced water security is projected for the Bolivian Andes due to both an expected increase in demand and a decline in the supply of water. This will result in negative impacts on water availability, and therefore on food security, power generation and livelihoods. Rising temperatures due to climate change are associated with glacier retreat across the Andes, which is one factor affecting the supply of water. Therefore it is important to gather information about other sources of high altitude water in the Bolivian Andes and other similarly arid high mountain regions facing similar stresses. Rock glaciers are masses of ice that are covered by a thick layer of rock. Because of their ice content, they are potentially important water sources, especially in arid regions. However, little is known about their spatial distribution and nature. They are smaller, occur at lower altitudes and are less obvious than regular ice glaciers. With the purpose of better informing future water management in Bolivia, this research, which was conducted with the assistance of Oxfam and Agua Sustentable, has created the first rock glacier inventory for the country (15  – 22°S) and has established the number, size and distribution of these rock glaciers. In total, 94 rock glaciers were discovered in the Bolivian Andes, of which 54 are estimated to contain ice and are therefore active sources of water. It was possible to make an estimation of their importance as water stores for local communities, in comparison with regular glaciers. Climate change impacts on glaciers and other water resources are occurring at a rapid rate in the Bolivian Andes and Bolivia can be used as an early warning indicator of problems in arid regions worldwide. The rock cover on rock glaciers will insulate them to some extent and as temperatures rise, will make them more resilient to melting than ice glaciers. In highlighting the presence of rock glaciers and in setting out methods for identifying them, this research seeks to contribute to improving the knowledge of water resources in the Bolivian Andes and to make a contribution to similar studies elsewhere. It also highlights the need to prioritize the preservation of areas where rock glaciers are located in the interests of water security for vulnerable populations. The rock glacier inventory resulting from this research is held by Agua Sustentable, see http://www.aguasustentable.org  4 Rock Glaciers and Climate Change in the Bolivian Andes: Mapping new water resources 1 INTRODUCTION Increasing demand for water is connected with continued population growth and other factors, while simultaneously climate change is accelerating glacier melting, raising serious water resource management concerns for arid and mountainous regions (Bradley et al., 2006; Painter, 2007; Jeschke, 2009). Providing an adequate water supply poses one of the greatest challenges for many countries in the 21st century. Bolivia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts due to its high levels of poverty and inequality, yet it has a very limited capacity to adapt. Vulnerable social groups will be affected the worst, as they are the most ill-equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change (Oxfam, 2009). The water resources of landlocked Bolivia are not evenly distributed: the eastern lowlands are wet and tropical, while the dry Altiplano and mountains of the Andes cover the west of the country. The  Altiplano receives very little rain and experiences a long dry season (May to October). Bolivia’s capital, La Paz (Figure 1) is situated at ~4,000m asl in the Altiplano and has limited water sources; its two main water sources being rainfall and glaciers. Conventional ‘ ice glaciers ’  are especially important during the dry season for their meltwater. Glaciers provide one of the main sources of water for drinking, agriculture and energy generation (Jordan, 2008; Vuille et al., 2008; Chevallier et al., 2011). It is estimated that the glaciers of the Cordillera Real supply between 12 and 40 percent of potable water for La Paz (Vergara, 2009; Soruco, 2012). In the Andes, glaciers, debris-covered glaciers and rock glaciers are the three main features of the cryosphere, the frozen portion of the e arth’s surface (Bodin et al., 2010 ). However, glaciers have been retreating worldwide, affecting water resources downstream (IPCC, 2014). Bolivian glaciers have lost roughly half of their volume in the past 60 years (Soruco et al., 2009), leading to the disappearance of many small glaciers. One such example is the famous Chacaltaya glacier close to La Paz (Figure 2) which vanished in 2009, six years earlier than predicted. Water security is projected to become a bigger issue for La Paz because of the stresses of population growth, glacier retreat and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, the impacts of which are already being witnessed in the form of glacier recession, flooding and changes in seasons and weather patterns. Reduced water security will have a detrimental impact on the livelihoods of potentially millions of people. In the light of worldwide glacier retreat and rising and changing water demand, research on stores of water at high elevations, such as rock glaciers, is therefore needed in many regions of the world (Brenning et al., 2007). Oxfam, the University of Exeter, NERC, and the Bolivian non-government organization (NGO) Agua Sustentable, funded a PhD research project to investigate the distribution, number and size of these rock glaciers in Bolivia. The research was carried out by this paper’s author, Sally Rangecroft, over a period of four years. The resulting rock glacier inventory is held by  Agua Sustentable, see http://www.aguasustentable.org
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