- Declines in glacier area and volume are widespread. These changes will have important hydrologic consequences since glaciers store tremendous amounts of fresh water and buffer seasonally low flows in many densely populated regions. In this thesis I focus on a region that is hydrologically vulnerable to glacier change, namely the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. I present three manuscripts that focus on measuring glacier area change, modeling the effect of this area change on the hydrology of one watershed, and isotopic sampling to elucidate hydrologic processes in this watershed and the entire Cordillera Blanca.
In the first manuscript, I describe a methodology for mapping glaciers using satellite imagery. Satellite data, in conjunction with automated glacier mapping methods, are being used more frequently to map changes in glacier size. In contrast to the majority of studies using automated methods, I correct satellite images for atmospheric effects. Mapping glaciers with atmospherically-corrected satellite images resulted in an approximately 5% increase in glacier area, relative to glaciers mapped with non-atmospherically-corrected images. I also applied a consistent threshold that was validated using high-resolution satellite imagery. This helps to reduce error associated with change analysis. For the entire Cordillera Blanca, I calculated a 25% decrease in glacier area from 1987 to 2010. The rate of glacier area loss has increased significantly based on the most recent estimates.
In the second manuscript, I use a physically-based, hydrologic model, the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM) with a newly-coupled dynamic glacier model to simulate stream discharge and glacier change in the Llanganuco watershed of the Cordillera Blanca. I also examined statistical trends associated with historical records of temperature, precipitation, and discharge. I observed significant positive trends in annual temperature, but no trends in precipitation or discharge despite a 25% reduction in glacier area in this watershed over the same time. The model setup process and the results of sensitivity analyses are described. Of the input parameters I examined, I found that the model was particularly sensitive to changes in albedo and precipitation. Based on established efficiency criteria, the newly-coupled model did a decent job of simulating historical stream discharge and glacier area during 10 year calibration and validation periods. However, due to the lack of additional validation data and an inability to quantify uncertainty associated with model output, the model is not yet ready to be used for predicting future discharge based on different climate projections.
In the third manuscript I describe the knowledge gained about hydrologic processes from isotopic sampling in the Llanganuco watershed, as well as other watersheds of the Cordillera Blanca. Thirty water samples from Llanganuco were collected in July 2011 and measured for stable isotopes of water, δ¹⁸O and δ²H. I first calculated the isotopic lapse rate, or the relationship between isotopic values and elevation. Lapse rates from this watershed are slightly more positive than global averages. This observation is best explained by the influence of glaciers. I also calculated the strength of the relationship between isotopic values and percent glacier cover. For Llanganuco, glacier cover is a better predictor of isotopic value than elevation. Based on examination of the same relationships at larger scales in the Cordillera Blanca, this relationship appears to be persistent at a regional scale. Finally, I used a simple two-component mixing model to estimate the relative contributions of glacier meltwater and groundwater in the Llanganuco watershed. Glacier meltwater made up approximately three-fourths of surface water that exited the watershed during this two week period in July, 2011. The importance of glacier meltwater is clearly demonstrated using stable isotopes, but further, more detailed monthly sampling is necessary to accurately determine annual and dry season streamflow contributions from glacier meltwater and groundwater.