High-mountain environments with snow and ice are particularly sensitive to climatic change. Rapid glacier retreat with formation of new lakes, degradation of permafrost with large destabilized mountain slopes and critical changes in hydrological regimes and water supply are key challenges for local high-mountain communities and adjacent lowland regions.

The glaciated mountain ranges in the Regions of Ancash and Cusco in Peru are especially vulnerable to, and affected by impacts from climate change. Local communities and cities often exist directly within the reach of major hazard potentials such as lake outburst floods (aluviones), mud/debris flows (huaycos) or large rock/ice avalanches. People and institutions of the Cordilleras in Peru – particularly in the Cordillera Blanca - have long-standing experience with living and adapting to changing environmental conditions. As early as in the 1940s, for instance, risk reduction measures were undertaken at unstable glacier lakes. However, current changes are rapidly evolving beyond historical experience and pose increasingly large challenges to local communities and institutions. The responsible institutions at local, regional and national levels therefore urgently demand for knowledge exchange, international cooperation and support to develop the capacities to adequately respond to corresponding current and future challenges.

The Regions of Ancash and Cusco are foremost examples of the challenges related to climate change, which provinces and cities have to cope with. For example, on 11 April 2010 a rock-/ice avalanche from the top of Hualcán mountain in the Cordillera Blanca entered a glacier lake formed during the past few decades and caused a flood wave that impacted downstream areas and caused a debris flow reaching the city of Carhuaz. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured this time. However, similar events during the past decades have killed thousands of people in this region. Another recent example is the hyperconcentrated flow of 24 January 2010 that originated from a pro-glacial lake and destroyed parts of the village of Santa Teresa in the Department of Cusco while the original trigger factors are still unclear.

In general, risks associated to climate change seem to show a growing trend, however, many issues remain insufficiently understood. Improved knowledge, capacities and concrete un-bureaucratic adaptation measures are therefore critically needed. Consequently, the project intends to follow a three-level strategy such as:

Local level: Case study of the Laguna 513 in the Cordillera Blanca focusing on glacial risks. Set up of a monitoring system / further development to an early warning system / feasibility study for a multi-purpose project (e.g. water management, risk reduction of natural hazards, power generation).

Academic level: Enforcement of academic capacity building by new postgraduate/master courses in glaciology, climate change and high-mountain risk management. Collaboration of three Peruvian Universities (Huaraz, Cusco, La Molina-Lima) and the University of Zurich and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne).

Institutional level: Strengthening of glaciology in Peru by supporting key institutions such as UGRH (Unidad de Glaciología y Recursos Hídricos) in terms of technologies and methodologies for climate change-related glacier and integral high-mountain monitoring; by a constant exchange through international networks; by public programs in climate change adaptation and risk management in the regions of Cusco and Ancash to make regional resources available.

The three-year project consists of a Peruvian part, coordinated by the local NGO CARE, and including local, regional and national authorities, and of a Swiss part (Swiss consortium ECS) led by the University of Zurich, and including EPFL and Meteodat GmbH. Both parts strictly collaborate in accordance with a master activity plan to efficiently achieve the main objectives.

Research project aiming to answer key questions concerning past, present and future glacial hazards in Chile. The project will assess the changing magnitude, frequency, and distribution of different glacial hazards in Chile under current and future global climate change.

Website: Glacial hazards in Chile: processes, assessment, mitigation and risk management strategies