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A review of the current state of knowledge of proglacial hydrogeology in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

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The rapidly melting glaciers of Peru are posing new risks to regional dry season water supplies, and this is evident in the Cordillera Blanca, the mountain range with the world's largest concentration of tropical glaciers. Permanent ice loss is causing reductions to dry season streamflow, which is coupled with shifting demands and control over water access and entitlements in the region. A full evaluation of hydrologic inputs is required to inform future water management in the relative absence of glaciers. Over the last decade, new studies have shown groundwater to be a significant component of the regional water budget during the dry season, and it cannot be ignored when accounting for water quality and quantity downstream of the Cordillera Blanca's alpine catchments. Distinctive common features of the Cordillera Blanca's proglacial catchments are sediment‐filled valleys that were once under proglacial lake conditions. The combination of lake sediments with other alpine depositional features results in storage and interseasonal release of groundwater that comprises up to 80% of the valley's streamflow during the driest months of the year. We summarize the emerging understanding of hydrogeologic processes in proglacial headwater systems of the region's principal river, the Rio Santa, and make suggestions for future research that will more clearly characterize the spatial distribution of stored groundwater within the mountain range. As glaciers continue to recede, differences in aquifer thickness and groundwater residence time between alpine catchments in the region will increasingly control dry season water availability at the local and basin scale.

This article is categorized under:

  • Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
  • Science of Water > Methods
  • Engineering Water > Planning Water
Callejon de Huaylas drainage basin and watershed characteristics. Pampa wetland delineation was automated, using flat valley bottoms above 3,500 masl as boundary conditions (Maharaj, ). Projected freezing line heights (FLH) for optimistic (RCP2.6) and pessimistic (RCP8.5) climate modeling scenarios (taken from Schauwecker et al. ()). Digital elevation model derived from advanced Spaceborne thermal emission and reflection radiometer‐derived digital elevation model with a cell size of 30 m. Glaciers delineated using global land ice measurements from space database (Racoviteanu, Paul, Raup, Khalsa, & Armstrong R, 2009)
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(a) Conceptual diagrams of groundwater flow for northern and central valleys (north of Huaraz) and (b) southern valleys (south of Huaraz) of the Cordillera Blanca. White arrows indicate direction of groundwater recharge, flow, and exchange
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Photographs of pampas included in groundwater studies for the Cordillera Blanca: (a) Pachacoto, (b) Llanganuco, (c) Querococha, and (d) Quilcayhuanca. Different bedrock lithology leads to wider pampa area in southern valleys (a) and (c), while pampas are narrower in (b) and (d)
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(a) Proglacial lakes in the upper Llanganuco valley, partially filled with sediment. (b)–(d) Hypothesized pampa formation includes the infilling of lakes with sediment, which occupies the uppermost sections of submerged talus. White arrow indicates direction of glacial retreat. Darker green area along lake bottom is representative of coarse grained talus that is infilled with fine lacustrine particles
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