With Data and Technology, Ecuador is Seeking Solutions to Glacier Retreat

December 7, 2012


Gustavo Egüez downloads data from Antisana Monitoring Station 1.

Banco Mundial

  • Some glaciers are retreating from 25 to 30 meters annually.
  • The shrinking of these ice masses can affect the availability of water for irrigation and human consumption.
  • An Andean project is monitoring the situation and proposing measures to confront potential problems.

“Antisana is like my second home,” says Gustavo Egüez, who visits the volcano one a month with technicians from the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (INAMHI) to download data generated by the two meteorological monitoring stations established at over 4,000 meters above sea level.

Temperature, wind speed, humidity, energy balance and the relations between the two stations permit researchers to learn about the real impact of climate change on Antisana glaciers.

Measuring 5,753 meters, the Antisana volcano is located in Napo Province, in north-central Ecuador. Its glaciers and the nearby plateaus, such as Papallacta and Tambo Valley, are an important source of drinking water for southern Quito.

According to Luis Maisincho, an INAMHI researcher responsible for processing monitoring station data, studies by the INAMHI and France’s  Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) found that some Antisana glaciers have experienced marked retreat, at an average rate of 25 to 30 meters per year.

" Some Antisana glaciers have experienced marked retreat, at an average rate of 25 to 30 meters per year. "

Luis Maisincho

INAMHI Researcher - Ecuador

Technology for Predicting the Future

The Antisana stations are the highest in Ecuador and the only ones established near the surface of the glacier. This makes it possible “to obtain valuable information on the atmospheric conditions at this altitude and for us to learn about the relationship between climate and the glacier,” said Maisincho.

Until recently, monitoring was more difficult because extreme weather conditions in highland areas hindered systematic data collection, according to Daniel Mira-Salama, World Bank environmental specialist.

That situation changed with the new automated stations, “which generate a large amount of data crucial for improving knowledge on the dynamics of glaciers and hydrology, and that permit more precise future scenarios with respect to glacier retreat,” said Mira-Salama.

The expert added that “these scenarios indicate where and when the most important impacts will occur in terms water shortages or the lack of water regulation in the basin and will facilitate projections on the expected impact on water availability.”

Adaptation is Necessary

The Adaptation to the Impact of Rapid Glacier Retreat in the Tropical Andes Project (PRAA) is implemented in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Its goal is to design and implement adaptation measures in response to the effects of climate change and glacier retreat.

Financed by the Global Environment Facility (i), the PRAA is implemented by the World Bank under the leadership of environmental officials of the participating countries and the administration of the General Secretariat of the Andean Community of Nations (SGCA).

The project focuses on collecting data and implementing pilot adaptation plans in the glaciers of the Ecuadorian Andes.

“By early next year, we hope to add three additional hydrological stations, four rain gauges and three meteorological stations,” said Jorge Núñez, PRAA coordinator in Ecuador.