Truckee High School student volunteers in the Andes | SierraSun.com

Truckee High School student volunteers in the Andes

Special to the Sun

Truckee High School student Ariana Kendall volunteered this summer in the Peruvian Andes.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — This summer, Truckee High School student Ariana Kendall joined the American Climber Science Program (ACSP) for three weeks to volunteer on a research expedition high in the Andes to the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Ariana climbed to an elevation of 17,125 feet to participate in glacial sample collection. She was the youngest member of the group which included both American and Peruvian college students and volunteers.

Among the many novel experiences in this new culture and environment, Ariana saw first-hand some of the major changes happening in high mountain environments.

Ariana Kendall climbing with scientists to collect glacier snow at 17,000 feet. Below is an account of her adventure and volunteer work.

"On this trip, I was exposed to the extent of damage that climate change and pollution have caused to glaciers. I have also seen how it is affecting the communities and cities that rely on glacier runoff for their irrigation to crops and drinking water.

"It really opened my eyes to the changes in our planet and how it is a real and present thing. We hear about it on the news, and it is sad but distant. Going on this trip made it so much clearer. Seeing and feeling the effects makes it serious. I experienced the lack of water firsthand in Huaraz, when one night, the city literally ran out of water.

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"The city's water was coming from a supply that was finite. I walked on a glacier and was told that just two years ago, the place where I had just scrambled over boulders to get to the glacier, were a part of the glacier. I was also told that before climbing up it would be a smooth football field sized area of just snow and ice. Upon climbing, I saw it was riddled with crevasse everywhere and the sound of running water could be heard as we trudged along.

"The ice was also incredibly dirty and it reminded me very much of the dirty snow on the sides of the freeway after sanding and snowplowing. I learned that just this year, there had been rainfall at 16,000 feet instead of snow. This not only accelerates the melt, the rain runoff is faster and the storage capacity is much less.

"What I got out of this experience was that the Cordillera Blanca is a beautiful and majestic place but its glaciers are disappearing and the region is increasingly dehydrated. I learned that, although it is not easy, there are some solutions, at least in the short term, such as reducing agricultural burning, controlling mining pollution and continuing to limit pollution going into the air. To quote the movie The Martian, 'we have to science the heck out of it.'"

The Cordillera Blanca (White Range) in the Andes is a spectacular area with 33 peaks over 18,000 feet. The region contains the greatest extent of world's tropical glaciers which are disappearing at an extraordinary rate.

This is a problem because glaciers are the water source not only for small, impoverished mountain communities but also for huge cities. Glacier runoff is the main water supply for the city of Lima, Peru, a teaming capital of 8.5 million, and the second largest desert city in the world.

In fact, because all major rivers of the world start in highlands, more than half of the world's population relies on water that accumulates in mountain areas. But something dramatic has been happening to the water supply locked in mountain glaciers: It is melting and disappearing at a never-before-seen rate.

The ACSP is a volunteer run nonprofit organization that does research and conservation in remote and mountains regions. After a few days of acclimatization in the city of Huaraz, Ariana, headed into the mountains with the research team.

They camped for a week at 14,000 feet in an important watershed within the range. Projects included testing water quality, recording the effects of overgrazing on plants and soils, and monitored biodiversity. Volunteers even pitched in with scientists to collect the data.

After a break to resupply, enjoy a hot shower and do laundry in town, the team headed back into a different region of the Cordillera Blanca, this time to gather samples from high mountain glaciers.

In addition to the warming temperatures, air pollution also causes glacier to melt more quickly. Black carbon is type of air pollution produced by combustion of fossil fuels and by agricultural burning.

When the black carbon falls out of the atmosphere onto snow, it causes the "dirty" snow to heat up far more quickly than clean snow. ACSP scientists and volunteers climb to the tops of high peaks in order to measure the impact of black carbon and other types of pollution on these glaciers.

With changing weather patterns and global warming, our planet, our state and our community are facing the increasing challenge of how to manage our precious water resources. We urgently need more information and creative solutions.

This winter, Ariana will be working with ACSP scientists to sample pollution and black carbon on the snow in our area. Look for updates on Ariana's results next year!