Andy Maser of the Epicocity Project has just received a Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society for his team’s current project. Maser, along with Trip Jennings, Scott Feindel and Brian Eustis are in Bolivia investigating the effects of climate change on the country’s water resources. They are bringing together elements of adventure, science and conservation in an environment on the brink of hydrologic crisis. “Climate change has begun to directly affect the Bolivians’ way of life—farmers have less water for irrigation and urban supplies have begun to diminish. Experts conducting research here have grave predictions for the near future of Bolivia’s water resources. And this is happening in a country responsible for a miniscule percentage of total global carbon production,” says Maser.
Bolivia is bisected by the rugged Andes Mountains, a range that creates a natural barrier between the lush Amazon Basin and the country’s dry western highlands. High atop these mountains sit glaciers that, for centuries, have melted during the summers and regenerated during the winter. This natural cycle ensures that the dry western highlands, home to the capital city of La Paz and its population of over a million people, have a consistent source of water, year after year, just as they have for thousands of years.
Climate change has, however, disrupted this cycle. Many glaciers have receded significantly and others have disappeared entirely. Bolivian glaciologist Edmond Ramirez has been monitoring this change since the 1980s, and has made stark predictions for the lifespan of this vital water source based on the melt rate over the past decades. The Chacaltaya glacier has, unfortunately, exceeded his predictions and completely disappeared years earlier than expected.
The Epicocity team is working in conjunction with National Geographic on this project that incorporates adventure to produce a story that appeals to a mass audience. They will travel high into the Andes with Edson Ramirez to investigate these glaciers then load their kayaks and equipment on mules to begin the trip down the Challayna River basin. When the river becomes passable, they will begin the trip downstream into the Amazon Basin by kayak. On the way down, they will interview local farmers, who have already begun to feel the effects of climate change in the form of reduced river flows.
This expedition is part of Epicocity’s Rivers In Demand series, an ongoing project to explore and document threatened ecosystems around the world. In Bolivia, they are filming for a documentary, a segment for the PBS show Foreign Exchange and a National Geographic TV show on global water issues. Watch for updates as the expedition develops at the Epicocity blog and the National Geographic Adventure blog.