Collaborative Research: From Peaks To Slopes To Communities, Tropical Glacierized Volcanoes As Sentinels of Global Change: Integrated Impacts On Water, Plants and Elemental Cycling

Project: Research project

Project Details


In the inner tropics, glaciers are exclusively found of volcano peaks above unique Andean páramo ecosystems that serve as global biodiversity hotspots, harbor some of the highest carbon stocks per unit area on Earth, and sustain Indigenous agrarian Kichwa communities who have stewarded the land and waters for generations. Glaciers there are fast-disappearing under climate change, yet the vast majority of studies on glacier retreat and downstream impacts are concentrated in mid- to high-latitudes. With Ecuadorian collaborators at academic, governmental, and community institutions, the project’s overarching research objective is to determine how climate change drives glacier retreat on culturally and ecologically critical Andean volcanoes in the inner tropics, triggering impacts on water supply, vegetation and land-use, and elemental feedbacks to the climate. To ensure benefits to Kichwa stewards of the páramos, the approach includes co-production of predictive models of future change with the historically marginalized Kichwa communities living at the mountain bases. Engagement with the communities will yield a framework for ethically weaving together Indigenous and scientific understandings of earth systems–which is lacking in the Andes. Closer to home, at and around the U.S. home institutions, the project will develop activities for Indigenous university science students and Latin American/Indigenous high school students to help them face achievement gaps for science careers while acknowledging their heritage. Through collaboration events, the project team, as participants of the Global North’s disproportionate contributions to global change, endeavors to fulfill their obligations to Indigenous peoples, lands, and water in the Global South, in their own states, and with implications for science-Indigenous community partnerships elsewhere.This project provides the first systematic investigation on glacier mass balance processes in the inner tropics, models the consequences of accelerated plant succession in deglacierized landscapes, and implements the first assessment of sulfur and metals controls on páramo carbon stores. Its interdisciplinary work plan will further uncover hidden subsurface flow paths of meltwater that influence the timing of stream discharge and the weathering and export of solutes; demonstrate complex feedbacks among plant succession, soil moisture dynamics, soil development, and nutrient release under climate change and land management scenarios; provide spatiotemporally resolved hydro-biogeochemical process-understanding to determine whether vast páramo carbon stores will become a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere; and finally show how climate-driven glacier retreat triggers responses that propagate throughout mountain catchments to affect water, plants, and elemental cycles. The project’s integrative approach combines field and remote sensing observations, laboratory analyses, and computational modeling, and knowledge co-production with Kichwa communities. In addition to producing extensive multidisciplinary datasets and predictive integrative models in a data-sparse and fast-changing region of the world, centering Indigenous community engagement creates a novel opportunity for Andean Indigenous knowledge to be in dialogue with conventional academic science, which can transform conceptualizations of earth science.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date9/15/238/31/27


  • National Science Foundation: $375,797.00


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