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Glacial areas, lake areas, and snowlines from 1975 to 2012: status of the Cordillera Vilcanota, including the Quelccaya Ice Cap, northern central Andes, Peru

DOI: 10.5194/tcd-7-573-2013

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Abstract:

Glaciers in the tropical Andes of southern Peru have received limited attention compared to glaciers in other regions (both near and far), yet remain of vital importance to agriculture, fresh water, and hydropower supplies of downstream communities. Little is known about recent glacial-area changes and how the glaciers in this region respond to climate changes, and, ultimately, how these changes will affect lake and water supplies. To remedy this, we have used 144 multi-spectral satellite images spanning almost four decades, from 1975–2012, to obtain glacial and lake-area outlines for the understudied Cordillera Vilcanota region, including the Quelccaya Ice Cap. In a second step, we have estimated the snowline altitude of the Quelccaya Ice Cap using spectral unmixing methods. We have made the following four key observations: first, since 1988 glacial areas throughout the Cordillera Vilcanota have been declining at a rate of 5.46 ± 1.70 km2 yr 1 (22-yr average, 1988–2010, with 95% confidence interval). The Quelccaya Ica Cap, specifically, has been declining at a rate of 0.67 ± 0.18 km2 yr 1 since 1980 (31-yr average, 1980–2011, also with 95% confidence interval); Second, decline rates for individual glacierized regions have been accelerating during the past decade (2000–2011) as compared to the preceding decade (1990–2000); Third, the snowline of the Quelccaya Ice Cap is retreating to higher elevations as glacial areas decrease, by a total of almost 300 m between its lowest recorded elevation in 1989 and its highest in 1998; and fourth, as glacial regions have decreased, 61% of lakes connected to glacial watersheds have shown a roughly synchronous increase in lake area, while 84% of lakes not connected to glacial watersheds have remained stable or have declined in area. Our new and detailed data on glacial and lake areas over 37 yr provide an important spatiotemporal assessment of climate variability in this area. These data can be integrated into further studies to analyze inter-annual glacial and lake-area changes and assess hydrologic dependence and consequences for downstream populations.

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