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Glacier retreat in the Peruvian Andes

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[Music]
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Caption:
Palcacocha glacier, Cordillera Blanca, Peru

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Speaker 1:
Peru is interesting it contains about 70 percent of the world's tropical glaciers.
As you can imagine the tropics isn't a great place for glaciers.
Many mountain regions around the world are warming at much higher than the global average
and that's true also in Peru.
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Palcacocha glacier

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Speaker 1 (Jemma Wadham):
Glaciers in Peru have been retreating,
over the last few decades they've lost about 30 percent of their area.
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Caption:
Jemma Wadham, Professor of Glaciology, University of Bristol
Jemma Wadham sitting in chair

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The very special thing about Peruvian glaciers is actually they are vital as a water resource for the region.
So during the rainy season the glaciers receive snowfall and they're nourished,
and in the dry season, when there's less rain, they then melt and continue to provide meltwater for local communities.
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Palcacocha glacier

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So they really buffer a kind of low water supply during the dry season when the rain stops.
So they're really, really important in providing water to people to croplands, to animals as well.
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Jemma Wadham sitting in chair

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With any big grand environmental challenge it's so much more powerful to be able to bring
people together,
across disciplines across borders and I think the project we're running is a unique example of that.
So I'm a glaciologist from the UK, I've done a lot of work on glaciers,
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Three researchers walking towards Palcacocha glacier

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Raul Loayza-Muro, my collaborator in Peru, he's an ecotoxicologist,
so he's very up on the impact of water quality on people and an ecosystem
so together we actually bring a really unique set of skills together,
which enables us to kind of address this grand challenge about water quality and glassy retreat in Peru.
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Two researchers sit and examine rocks

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The glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca they sit on top of these rocks which are very metal rich
As the glaciers are retreating they are exposing those rocks in front of them, they get washed
by the rain,
they're open to the atmosphere, the metals get dissolved out of the rock sand and that process produces acid.
So the rivers are becoming acidic and very metal toxic.
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Shots of the glacier

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What we don't know is which rivers that's going to happen to, which rivers that's not going to happen to.
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River flowing

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So what we're hoping to do through our project is to produce a vulnerability map of that whole region for the water resource managers.
So they can see which rivers are going to be a problem as the glaciers retreat, which ones we don't think will be a problem,
and then on the flip side of that, to work with these communities to help them to remediate
some of the toxic waters in the rivers which is happening due to glacier retreat.
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Researchers working by river and collecting and analysing samples

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So they're constructing artificial wetlands, and by working with these communities I think what's quite nice,
is actually we're kind of implementing a solution to the problem,
rather than just diagnosing the fact that there is a water quality problem in the mountains
in that region.
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Researchers and local community members discuss the problem together on a mountain in Peru

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Speaker 2 (Dr Raul Loayza-Muro):
Wetlands are ecosystems that are unique to high-altitude Andes. They are characterised by native
Flora, consisting of moss and grasses.
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Caption: Dr Raul Loayza-Muro, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia
Dr Raul Loayza-Muro

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This ecosystem is like a sponge that keeps water and also filters the water.
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Close up of grasses

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So learning about the functioning of these ecosystems make us think about designing green infrastructure.
One example what happens here in the Shallap catchment. Glacier retreats has produced oxidation, acidification of water and transport of metals.
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Surrounding mountainous landscape

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This has been channelized down to an artificial wetland, where we are aiming to treat a part of this acid water coming from the upper parts,
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Dr Raul Loayza-Muro

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so we can improve the quality, delivering water to reservoirs, so that local people can use this water for their lands, for crops for example, for cattle raising.
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Arial shot of artificial wetland
Researcher testing water quality
Local people and cows walking through field

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Speaker 1 (Jemma Wadham):
May the memory of my people not rage against me.
I never wanted to murder the valley.
And let everyone know, I did not cause my own death
So this evening I’m about to perform in a play about changing glaciers in Peru,
where I will actually be becoming the glacier.
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Caption: Performance at UK ambassador’s residence, Lima
Jemma Wadham dressed as a glacier performing on stage

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So the performance is linked to a programme called Trans.MISSION. It's jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council in the in the UK,
with the Hay Festival, which is one of the world's greatest literary festivals,
and Hay kind of paired me with a storyteller and actress in Peru, which is Erica Stockholm,
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Jemma Wadham sitting down

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and she's written a beautiful story about the changing glaciers from the scientific results that I've kind of discussed with her.
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Erica Stockholm and Dr Raul Loayza-Muro address an audience

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I really think that there should be more collaboration between scientists and artists
because I think at the moment it's pretty clear that the science messages about what's happening
need to get out there in a more accessible way,
and artists have a brilliant way of doing that actually and there's something quite powerful what happens when art meets science
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Jemma Wadham performs on stage

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I really believe that if people come together across disciplines and across different nations, that you can actually solve some of these problems.
You will come to a problem with a different mindset and a different skill set,
and actually these kind of projects, they help you open up a little bit
and see things from another perspective, to bring in different types of solution
so I really, really believe that international cooperation is key with solving grands environmental challenges.
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Jemma Wadham sitting down

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[Music]
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Closing slide with text:
Play written by Erica Stockholm
Play music and violin: Pedro Avila
Filmed and edited by Jon Spaull
Music for fil composed by Jim Howard
The CASCADA project is funded by
NERC and CONCYTEC through the
Newton Paulet Fund
The play was funded by the
Hay Festival/NERC Trans.MISSION programme
CONCYTEC logo, Natural Environment research Council logo, Newton Paulet Fund logo

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