Climate Change in the Andes

Field Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Peru , Summer 2009

Program Overview

The Department of Environmental Studies was awarded support for an intensive undergraduate research and training experience focused on climate change in the Peruvian Andes. Students from UC-Santa Cruz, Ohio State University and McGill University participated in an interdisciplinary field-based research and learning experience focusing on methods to advance societal understanding of climate change and its impacts in highly vulnerable societies like Peru.† Students in the program were involved in challenging field expeditions at high elevation, instrumental monitoring and data collection, field surveys with local populations and lectures and workshops in both Lima and the Cordillera Blanca Peru. Students were also involved in an international research and training workshop, Adapting to a World without Glaciers, that was organized by the National Science Foundation, United States Agency for International Development, The United States Embassy in Peru , The Mountain Institute, a variety of universities from Europe and North America and Peruvian institutions and researchers.

Research and Training Objectives

Between July 5 and August 5, 2009 participants in the field research and training program engaged in a diverse array of training and research activities.† Students had the opportunity to engage with a diverse array of international scholars, participate in intensive multi-day workshop activities, and take part in several extended expeditions in high altitude watersheds in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru .† The immersive learning environment was complemented by a well-developed pedagogical framework and a diverse array of subject matter. (See Table 1).


  • The current status and science of climate Change and glaciers in Peru
  • Key issues and impacts for Peru
  • Climate change policy and the policy process
  • Workshop:† vulnerability and local impacts of glacier recession, livelihood threats and adaptation, resource conflicts
  • Field visits: demonstration of water sampling and environmental monitoring instrumentation, glacial hazards tour (Yungay), watershed assessment (Quilcayhuanca), glacier dynamics (Llanganuco), water resources and lake coring (Queshque)
  • Workshop:† vulnerability and local impacts of glacier recession, livelihood threats and adaptation, resource conflicts
  • Field visits: demonstration of water sampling and environmental monitoring instrumentation, glacial hazards tour (Yungay), glacier dynamics (Llanganuco)
  • Hydrological monitoring, end-member mixing, community water sampling, interview and survey techniques, high altitude field work and orienteering, GPS and GIS technologies
  • Peru , climate change, interdiscplinarity and future directions for research and study

University of California, Santa Cruz Undergraduate Participants

Laurel Hunt

My name is Laurel Hunt.† I am 19 years old and will be entering my third year as an Environmental Studies major at the University of California Santa Cruz.† Before coming to UCSC, I lived in San Francisco, California.† Besides a strong interest in environmental policy, my interests include travelling, creating visual art, playing sports and childrenís education.†† One of my favorite parts about attending UCSC is the spectacular campus because there are many opportunities for hiking and riding bicycles.† After college, I am considering pursuing a career in environmental law or urban planning.††

Project Vision Statement†

On this trip to Peru, I hope to learn more about the ecological, social and political effects of global climate change on the environment and the people of Peru.†† Additionally, I hope to learn about the international efforts to create environmental policy to address the impacts of global climate change.† In general, I am most interested in the policy side of environmental studies.† However, I am excited to learn about the ecological effects of global climate change because, combining ecology with social and political forces is essential to craft functional and effective environmental policy.† This trip will provide me with the rare opportunity to collaborate with a variety of people, both at UCSC and throughout the world, who are interested in learning and working constructively on issues of global importance.††

Program Assessment and Reflections

The research trip that I participated in was a unique and valuable educational experience.† Being able to visit Lima and the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru in order to observe Professor Jeffrey Bury and Adam †Frenchís research (and the research of the other professors and students from The Ohio State University and McGill University) was thought-provoking and thrilling.†

One recurring observation that I had on the trip was of the extreme dedication that all of the professors, PhD students and graduate students have towards their work.† They return to Peru, year after year, and endure challenging conditions for the purpose of understanding the state of the water resources in the Cordillera Blanca region by monitoring climatic influences on the glaciers and the landscape of the Andes. Another aspect of the work that I observed was how scientific information about water resources is generated and then linked to livelihoods and community needs of the inhabitants of the region.† Part of our research this summer specifically addresses the lives and concerns of individuals who depend on the water resources for their daily lives and strategizes ways to improve those individualsí situations.

Laurel2.tifWhile working and observing research in the field in the Cordillera Blanca region, I learned how important it is to develop a relationship with the communities you work with.† I noticed that some Peruvian people were very skeptical of scientists, and foreigners in general, who visited their communities to work.† The importance of community outreach and trust-building by visiting the same communities every year were two aspects of research that I learned from watching Professor Jeffrey Bury and Adam French work.† Additionally, I was excited to be able to speak Spanish (although many people in the Cordillera Blanca region also spoke Quechua), and learned that speaking the language of the people you work with, as opposed to using a translator or only speaking to people in the community who speak English, makes a huge difference in trust and accessibility to their opinions and stories.†

In Lima, where we attended a global climate change conference, I was able to witness the actual process of policy creation and the effects of current policies related to natural resources on the Peruvian people.† Being able to participate in the global climate change conference, which specifically focused on the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru helped me understand the complexity of issues in the region related to climate change.† At the conference, and, throughout the trip, I had the opportunity to hear, and speak with, government officials, scholars, people who work for non-governmental organizations, local politicians and ordinary people affected by water resource policies.†† I learned that it is essential to hear a range of perspectives to complement research efforts.††

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Both at the climate change conference in Lima and during the fieldwork in the Cordillera Blanca, I was able to see the interdisciplinary nature of the research, which is reflected in the Environmental Studies Departmentís curriculum.†† I am interested in the policy and social science aspects of environmental studies, and one of my goals for this trip was to see how policies that were developed related to water resources and global climate change were also related to the ecology of the region and the science of global climate change.† In other words, it was exciting to see how ice core samples and water temperature and flow readings are connected to how water resources are allocated to different regions of Peru.† I feel very fortunate that my professors at the University are teaching me how to problem-solve and tackle complicated global issues.† My education covers the natural and social sciences and, most importantly, the bridge between the two disciplines.† On my trip to Peru I heard people express, many times, that the scientists of the future will have to possess the skills of both natural and social scientists.† I am lucky to have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of this new science education.†

In summary, I have come back from Peru with a deeper understanding of the time, energy and dedication it takes to pursue fieldwork, especially in the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru.† I feel confident that wherever my studies take me after I graduate from the University, I will be able to apply my education to a range of areas of investigation.†

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Sara Reid

I am a UC Santa Cruz graduate with a degree in Environmental Studies and a degree in Anthropology.  Although I graduated a year ago, I have remained linked into the University community with a staff position as the education and gardening assistant at the Arboretum at UC Santa Cruz. My interdisciplinary education at UCSC was dynamic and engaging, and it directed my interests towards diverse but complimentary fields.  The Anthropology part of my studies steers me towards ethnography as a method for understanding social responses and solutions to environmental problems.  When thinking about climate change in vulnerable areas such as the Andes I am looking less for statistics, and more for local discourses on shifting livelihood strategies.  I also understand that a close look at ecological processes is essential to understanding and coping with environmental change.

Project Vision Statement

One of my major challenges right now is taking my broad education at the University and turning it into focused, practical work.  A valuable component that my University classes did not give me was real experience doing fieldwork.  As I plan for graduate school in the future I need to make decisions about where I will go, what I will study, and will it be a program that includes fieldwork.  I have always wanted to do work in a Latin American country and I need an experience such as this to introduce me to the possibilities and realities of international research.  I expect this trip will initiate me to playing the role of a foreign researcher in a small community, and expose me to the politics, challenges, and rewards of cross-cultural work. I have studied in theory the ways policies are made and stabilized and I am interested to see for myself the difference between the political rhetoric and the lived reality of policies addressing climate change.  Finally I am eager to hear the solutions and ideas that diverse scholars, governmental agencies, and local people propose to tackle what will likely be the largest environmental crisis of our time.  This is cutting edge work and I am eager for an opportunity to be a part of it.

Program Assessment and Reflections

Sara1.tifI know that this summerís Research Experience for Undergraduates program in Peru is one of the events Iíll look back on and recognize as a formative moment in my life.  It was a great learning experience that gave me a new perspective on climate change, while giving me essential preparation for continuing my education in graduate school. 

Up until this summer my understanding and experience of climate change was largely second hand.  In a society where our water come from the tap and our food comes from the grocery store, the effects of climate variability on food production are not terribly obvious.  In the Cordillera Blanca we were interacting with people who are feeling the effects of climate change right now in a very real way.  It was shocking to see the glaciers as they are today after seeing images or hearing personal accounts of where they were 15 years ago.  I got the sense that growing sufficient food in the extreme environment of the Andes is challenging, and uncertain climate patterns and water availability will deepen those challenges.  In observing the scientific efforts underway to mark glacial recession, and meeting some of the people whose lives will be seriously affected by climate change in the coming decades, my understanding of climate change has become more vivid and tangible than it ever was in the classroom. Adam-2009-IMG_3723.JPG

The most valuable thing I am taking from this experience is a strong motivation to go into graduate school.  Observing and participating in the research of others allowed me to see myself more clearly in that role.  Experiencing field work and being surrounded physical and social scientists gave me the framework to organize my own research goals and interests.  I am currently looking into graduate programs in Environmental Studies, Geography, and Natural Resources, and I hope to continue learning about sustainable development and rural livelihoods.



Cayesh Merged.jpg

Galen Licht

My name is Galen Licht. I am from a small town in Marin County, CA. I will be entering my senior year at UC Santa Cruz in the fall of 2009 as an Environmental Studies Major. My interests take me to the outdoors as a Recreation Leader for the UCSC Recreation Department. My hobbies include; kayaking, climbing, skiing, backpacking and teaching. In 2006, I started the UC Santa Cruz Kayak Club. The goal of the kayak club is to help create space for college students learn how to kayak and a social network of kayak enthusiasts.

Project Vision Statement

I feel very lucky to be par taking in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates to Peru to study the impacts of Climate Change on Andean populations. It is clear that the world is facing many problems physical and social and a combination of both. One person cannot fix all the problems but together as a collective group working on different areas of the world a lot can be achieved. I am interested in the Cordillera Blanca Range because it is home to 25% of all tropical glaciers, making it a keystone area in understanding how climate change is affecting human populations. The physical changes of glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca Range are having direct impacts to rural Andean populations. I hope to gain a better understanding of the problems these people are facing in order to be more prepared to help them create solutions. In addition to the social aspects of the project, I want to learn about the environmental processes that occur to a receding glacier and where the melt water is going. Access to water is becoming a major issue in the world and no more prevalent in areas that depend on glaciers for water. I hope to gain news skills, meet new people and establish lasting relationships in Peru that will help me continue researching, collaborating and finding solutions to the growing problems in the region.

Program Assessment and Reflections

Adam-Galen on Glacier.jpgReflecting on my experiences in Peru I can say without a doubt I learned more in 2 weeks than an entire quarter sitting in a classroom. I believe hands on and out of the classroom learning should be a required element of college for all students. I came away with tangible skills for studying climate change. Some of the activities I participated in were measuring the depth of glaciers using ground penetration radars, coring ancient glacier lakes for carbon dating, and various techniques of water sampling. Each activity is equally important in the overall understanding of climate change in the Cordillera Blanca.† Not only did I gain valuable technical skills for studying climate change but made friendships and connections with students from across the country. After completing the field trips into three watersheds, I can better appreciate the hard work scientists endure to get their information and findings. Studying climate change in the Andes is not an easy task and it takes many committed individuals working together to make a difference. Part of the REU included attending a Climate Change Workshop focused on the Andes. This was packed with four days of talks from some of the most renowned scientists and policy makers of the Peruvian Andes. The workshop helped give perspective and background information before heading into the field. The NSF REU summer field trip to the Andes will remain the most significant part of my college career, giving me important skills to study climate change and a head start in field research.

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  University of California, Santa Cruz Graduate Student and Faculty Participants

Adam.jpgAdam French

 My current research as a doctoral student in the Environmental Studies Department is focused on environmental and socio-economic transformations driven by intersecting processes of global change. Currently, I am exploring how ongoing changes in global climate, culture, and political economy are impacting water availability, livelihood security, and socio-political stability on the Pacific slope of Peru. In general, I am interested in critical theoretical and applied research that bridges disciplinary divides and promotes social justice, natural resource conservation, and conflict resolution.

Program Assessment and Reflections

In addition to being a great introduction to the field for its participants, this summer's REU program in Peru provided me with excellent opportunities to work closely with interested and engaging undergraduates from both UC, Santa Cruz and Ohio State. As a strong proponent of field-based TeamCuchillacocha.jpgeducation, it was a pleasure for me to return to teaching outside the traditional classroom and to observe the ways in which our students learned and thrived during the program. While my personal highlights from the REU experience came from the excursions into our case-study watersheds--where I had the opportunity to share knowledge about local landscapes and communities as well as the diverse field methods we employ in our interdisciplinary work--it was also fun to help orient students to the vast cityscape of Lima and to the history of Peru while taking part in a rewarding conference that linked the academic and development communities. Despite the challenges and discomforts of international travel and high-altitude fieldwork, I was impressed by the group's strong morale and camaraderie as well as its commitment to the research tasks at hand. Reflecting back on the experience, I am most grateful for the new friends I gained as well as for the opportunity to improve my skills as a teacher in a complex and captivating learning environment.

JeffLlanganuco2.jpgJeffrey Bury

Our field research trip with our undergraduate research was very successful as you can see from their statements.† It was a very rewarding opportunity to be able to immerse our students in the field and to see that they gained such a broad background for their goals as the researchers of the future.



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Our Extended Field Research Team-Summer 2009

Lead Faculty


Bryan Mark

Ohio State University

Jeffrey McKenzie

McGill University

Cooperating Faculty


Ivana George

Bridgewater State College

Jacqueline Smith

The College of St. Rose

Don Rodbell

Union College

Post-Docs and Graduate Students


Nathan Stansell

Ohio State University

Jeff La Frenierre

Ohio State University

Kyung In Huh

Ohio State University

Michel Baraer

McGill University

Laura Maharaj

McGill University

Adam Clark

University of Montana

Undergraduate Students


Patrick Burns

Ohio State University

Michael Shoenfelt

Ohio State University

Alyssa Singer

Ohio State University

Shawn Stone

Ohio State University

Ivana George

Bridgewater State College