Peru 2013 Glacial Flooding Workshop

Marcelo Somos explaining Llaca Lake in the Cordillera Blanca

Glacial Flooding and Disaster Risk Management: Knowledge Exchange and Field Training

By Alton C. Byers, Ph.D.

TMI Director of Science and Exploration & HiMAP Co-Manager

Between 11 and 24 July, 2013, in the shadow of Peru’s magnificent Cordillera Blanca mountains, the High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program (HMGWP) held its third international workshop, “Glacial Flooding and Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Exchange and Field Training” ( 

I say “third” because even though the HMGWP didn’t officially start until March 2012, and although many of the 50+ participants (our “Community of Practice,” or CoP) have worked together for decades, the program really came together during the 2009 “Adapting to a World without Glaciers” workshop (also in Huaraz), followed by the 2011 “Andean-Asian Glacial Lake Expedition” into the Mt. Everest region of Nepal.  All three workshops have been designed and implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), The Mountain Institute (TMI), and the University of Texas at Austin (UT).

Once again, our workshop broke the mold.  Rather than follow the standard model of indoor-only paper presentations, “Glacial Flooding and Disaster Risk Management” also offered a variety of practical, field-based events that greatly enriched the professional lives of all participants, whether social scientists, physical scientists, or field practitioners. 

State-of-the-art research results, many of them featuring the HMGWP’s young Climber Scientist grantees, were presented during the first two days (see agenda).  This was followed by two days of training modules on new field methods in the high mountain sciences that included ground penetrating radar (GPR) demonstrations at Pastoruri glacier, conflict resolution methods at Paron glacial lake, and new systems for developing local adaptation management plans in the Quilcay watershed above Huaraz.  In between, a group trek to the 4500 m Churup lake helped to acclimate the 47 participants who had signed up for the more strenuous journey to Palcacocha lake that lay ahead.    

John Harlin, our new High Mountain CoP Moderator and Senior Program Officer, led the group in a half-day discussion on the continued growth and expansion of our unique Community of Practice of high mountain specialists from around the world.  Breakout groups reported that, during the past 17 months, the HMGWP had consistently provided numerous new and inspirational research, partnering, and professional opportunities that otherwise would not have been available.  Participants then voted to change the name of the CoP to the High Mountain Adaptation Partnership (HiMAP), although the HMGWP name may still show up occasionally during the transition.  The CoP discussions were then followed by a lively and musical pachamanca (traditional Peruvian cookout) at the beautiful Lazy Dog Inn, located in the beautiful foothills above the city of Huaraz.

The workshop ended with a three-day field trek over the 5200 m Huapi pass to Lake Palcacocha, one of the region’s most dangerous glacial lakes.  Ing. Cesar Portocarrero, a world expert in the social, physical, and engineering aspects of controlling dangerous glacial lakes, led the discussions at the lake regarding its history, growth since the 1941 outburst, siphons installed a year ago in an effort to lower the lake’s level, and plans for more substantial lowering through the installation of a 2 m diameter drainage pipe.  Juan Robles, USAID/Peru, participated in the trek and endorsed the importance of TMI’s work to build awareness for, and decrease the risk of, another glacial lake outburst flood, which HiMAP (formerly HMGWP) modeling suggests could kill as many as 30,000 people, mostly in the town of Huaraz (Huaraz already suffered the world’s deadliest GLOF, which killed an estimated 6,000 townspeople in 1941).  As in the Everest region in 2011, the opportunity for participants to spend time in the field together resulted in numerous related discussions concerning the social and physical impacts of climate change in the high mountain environment.  The entire week, from the paper presentations to the trek to Palcacocha Lake, was filmed by Skyship Films, which has produced outstanding short videos of HiMAP’s (HMGWP) other workshops and field expeditions since 2011 (see:

Once again, we chose the Cordillera Blanca as the workshop’s venue because it truly is a “living laboratory,” with numerous cutting-edge research and climate change adaptation projects in progress, many within a one- or two-hour drive from Huaraz.  As powerful and successful as our 21 days in the Mt. Everest region had been in 2011, here in the Andes one can drive a car nearly onto a glacier or into a glacial lake, and there is something to be said for convenience and proximity when undertaking a combined conference/training/fieldwork workshop such as “Glacial Flooding and Disaster Risk Management.”

In addition to the seemingly non-stop learning that took place, one of the most personally gratifying, but largely unanticipated, benefits of the workshop was the sheer number of new ideas for future projects that were generated.  For example, Karma, from Bhutan’s Department of Geology, suggested that the next workshop take place in Bhutan in 2014; he also expressed a keen interest in replicating Nepal’s TMI-led Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA) approach that helps communities adapt to climate change.  Meanwhile, Vladimir Aizen, from the University of Idaho, and Muzaffar Shodmonov, from the State Agency for Hydrometeorology in Tajikistan, lobbied for the next conference to take place in Tajikistan. 

Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council Chairman and lodge-owning entrepreneur Ang Chiri Sherpa was often seen discussing the forthcoming UNDP Imja Lake Risk Reduction Project with Gautam Rajkarnikar of Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology.  Ing. Cesar Portocarrero shared insights from his 2011 visit to Imja lake that was followed by several consultancies with the UNDP through the HMGWP. 

TMI’s Nepali and American staff began to develop the idea of a Nepali-led “Everest Alliance,” which would establish a plan to mobilize worldwide attention to conserving and sustainably managing the Mt. Everest ecosystem that has been so heavily damaged by contemporary adventure tourism, from below Lukla to the summit. This alliance would become a model for other iconic mountains worldwide, an effort that TMI intends to lead. 

Dr. Dinesh Bhuju, of the Resources Himalaya Foundation, expressed an interest in working with HiMAP to develop field-based courses in the Khumbu region of Nepal specifically tailored for Nepali undergraduate students.  TMI Andes and Himal staff regularly shared their experiences in not only the implementation of LAPAs, but also in the integration of scientific results into community-based climate change adaptation projects. International participants also worked with staff from TMI Andes, Nepal, and the US to develop new ideas for TMI’s “Great Trails of the World” initiative that will be presented to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conference in 2014.

Following the official close of the conference, HiMAP Co-Manager Daene McKinney (University of Texas, Austin), TMI/Peru’s Christina Geraud, Climber Scientist grantee Raúl Loayza, Peru’s Ministry of Environment climate-change project coordinator (and TMI partner) Josefa Rojas, myself, and others presented their scientific findings at a special workshop in Lima entitled “Proyecto de Implemenatión de Medidas de Adaptación frente al Cambio Climático en la Subcuenca Quilcay[1] (IMACC-Quilcay).“ The meeting was of particular significance because of its clear demonstration of the leadership role that HiMAP has played during the past two years in encouraging the government to take direct and real action to reduce the risk of Palcacocha lake, potentially saving the lives of thousands of people downstream.

These are just a few of the new ideas that will be pursued during the coming year, once again illustrating HiMAP’s commitment to addressing the priorities and concerns of its Community of Practice members.  August 2013-August 2014 will be HiMAP’s third year of operation, and we fully anticipate another exciting and creative burst of activity.  Stay tuned to this webpage for forthcoming announcements regarding next year’s workshop(s) somewhere in the high mountains!


[1] ”Implementation of Adaptation Projects for Climate Change in the Quilcay Watershed”