UO professor teams up with University of Texas colleague to study effects of climate change in Peru

As the University of Oregon football team prepares to face the University of Texas at Austin as adversaries in the Alamo Bowl on Monday, Dec. 30, collaboration away from the gridiron between researchers from both institutions is helping explain the effects of climate change and melting glaciers in Peru.

Mark Carey, an associate professor of history in the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, has teamed up with several researchers, including Professor Kenneth Young in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas, as part of a National Science Foundation grant.

Carey and Young serve as principal investigators on the project that is studying how environmental changes in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountains affect downstream water supplies and water management.

Although the interdisciplinary research group is quite diverse, including hydrologists and glaciologists, what makes this collaboration special is the social and life science perspective that Carey and Young provide to research that has been typically focused on the physical aspects of climate change.

“Ken and I are the ones who provide particularly unique contributions to the study of glaciers and glacier watersheds because it's usually glaciologists, hydrologists, and other natural scientists,” said Carey. “I bring in the often-overlooked human dimension and he brings in the biological and ecological aspects of hydrology and glaciology, which are also frequently neglected. But the whole team is really central to get at these broader questions.”

In examining the climate-glacier-water-society dynamics in the Cordillera Blanca, Carey’s research will provide critical information to urban residents, industries, farmers and policymakers that will inform adaptive strategies and responses to global climate change.

“I'm a historian looking at people in communities living downstream from the glacier, focusing especially on hydroelectricity generation and the billion-dollar, large-scale irrigation projects that rely on dwindling water supplies from melting glaciers.”

Young is a biogeographer looking at plants in the areas around glaciers, trying to understand how wetlands, forests, plants and other aspects of the flora affect hydrology.

“Asparagus in the United States that is imported from Peru may very well come from this watershed, so we are literally eating water from shrinking glaciers when we serve asparagus for dinner here,” said Carey.

For more information on Carey’s research, read “Melting in the Andes: Goodbye glaciers” by Barbara Fraser that was published in November 2012 in Nature, an international weekly journal of science.

 - by Melissa Foley, Office of Strategic Communications