Andean Glacier Bird - Diuca speculifera

Paleoclimate Research at Quelccaya - image gallery

Paleoclimate investigations on the Ice Cap itself were initiated in 1974 by Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University. Early efforts culminated in recovery of two ice cores in 1983, drilled 154.8 and 163.6 meters through the ice cap to bedrock. Skeptics declared that the task was impossible, but the initial cores yielded a 1500 year annually-resolved record of climate, including variations in El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Thompson's success drilling Quelccaya demonstrated that ice cores could indeed be recovered from tropical glaciers, and that they were a valuable new source of paleoclimate information. The difficulties of such drilling and core recovery are tremendous, but not insurmountable given sufficient determination. In July & August of 2003, Thompson led an international team back to Quelccaya to re-drill two sites at the summit, the 1983 site (168.7 m to bedrock) and on the North Dome (128.6 m to bedrock).

Integral to the paleoclimate research has been glaciological and climate investigations. For example, numerous short cores have been drilled to depths of 10-20 m at several ice cap sites, over the past 30 years. Beginning in 1976, scores of ablation stakes and snow pits have provided a better understanding of variability in snow chemistry and accumulation. Also in the late 1970s, meteorological instrumentation was deployed at the summit to characterize the largely-unknown climate at high elevations in the Andes. This aspect was carried out collaboratively with Stefan Hastenrath, working with equipment considered incredibly primitive – and unreliable – by today’s standards.

During this 2003 expedition meteorological measurements resumed, with modern electronics and satellite telemetry. The University of Massachusetts automated weather station (AWS) continues to provide data from a comprehensive suite of sensors (see image below), helping to establish the climate of Quelccaya Ice Cap.  BACK

Last updated: 1 August 2008
Doug Hardy, UMass Geosciences