Elsa Balton is a participant in the current research expedition in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. At the American Alpine Institute she has worked as executive assistant to the Institute’s president and as research assistant on green energy and carbon consumption offsets. She is a senior molecular biology and Spanish major at Western Washington University. During this, her first trip about 14,000 feet, she is posting narratives that describe some of the challenges and rewards she experiences while conducting research on microbes in a rugged environment at high altitude. This is her fourth posting, and it describes her second week in the mountains.]
After a few short rest days in Huaraz, we headed to the Quilcayhuanca Valley, where our second set of sampling points was located. We spent seven days sampling and hiking. Also, some of the climbers with the American Climber Science Program summited 17,475-foot Maparaju.
horses in the valley, and we think the skull is from a horse.
A Close-up View of Climate Change
Something that really struck me in this valley was the very tangible effect of climate change. When we took our first water samples in the valley, we were shocked to find that the pH was approximately 3 (a pH of 3 indicates relative acidity). The low pH is caused by deposition of heavy metals into the streams. As glaciers melt and recede, they expose previously uncovered rock which is easily eroded and releases heavy metals such as iron.
due to large amounts of iron deposits. Penelope Kipps photo.
This was the third icefall release that I observed on his trip. The first one, which we saw from
the Ulta Valley, was an avalanche of snow and ice that killed four people. Neha Malhan photo.
Jonah said that although it was nearly impossible to see anything at the summit due to fog, it was still one of the most beautiful experiences that he has had. They are both excited for the next climb (Pisco) and plan on doing more mountaineering in the future.
Time seems to be flying by, and we are all a little surprised that we only have one more valley to go. After sampling in Llanganuco, we will attend a climate conference near Huaraz called the International Glacier and Mountain Ecosystems Forum. The topics covered will include the fragileness of glaciers and mountain ecosystems; changing water resources; climate change and human impact on biodiversity; and management options for mountain ecosystems. The members of our expedition have diverse interests, and there should be something for everyone at this conference.
After that three of my fellow researchers and I will head to Cuzco on a three-day American Alpine Institute trip. We'll explore Cuzco and its Inca heritage, many of the remains of Inca settlements in the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba, and then visit Machu Picchu. That will be a great finale to this expedition.
That's the news for now. Back to you with an update in about a week.