Second Data Collection Trip in Cerro Plomo’s Valley

This past Tuesday, I returned to Cerro Plomo’s lower valley to collect more water samples and fill my data set for the Byrd Polar Research Center’s exploratory research.  I collected and filtered water at nine additional data points to complete a range along the lower part of the valley, sampling from 3,400 meters at the top of the valley, just past a waterfall, through a vibrant wetland, along a gorge and second waterfall, and descending to a major confluence of the El Cepo Stream at 3,000 meters elevation.  This water source confluences with other nearby streams to later form Santiago’s Mapocho River.

Piedra Numerada Wetland w Plomo 2

Researchers will use our data set to study differences in water isotope, nutrient concentration, and cation/anion levels to help determine what fundamental hydrological changes occur along its path.  For example, we hope to gain insight into how water chemistry changes as it passes through a wetland by comparing the data taken before, inside, and after the wetland pictured here.

yareta, llareta, chile, plomo, piedra numerada, Azorella compacta, wetland, andes mountains

Yareta (llareta; Azorella compacta).  One example of the diversity of plants found above 3,200 meters in the Andes Mountains.  Note the unmistakeable, constant water source in the distance, which makes the yareta’s slow 1.5 centimeter/year growth rate possible.

Our high altitude microbe samples, collected for researchers at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, start from the 5,400-meter summit of Cerro Plomo and span 1,000 vertical meters below.  These samples will advance a global study on alpine microbe function by contributing one of the first of such rock microbe samples from South America.  Next week, I will ship both of our data sets for analysis and wait to see what new clues they hold.

cerro plomo, chile, andes, mountains, water, glacier, iver

A bird’s-eye view of our environmental sampling path:  3,000 – 5,400 meters.  Rock samples in red, snow/water samples in blue.

Read more about my first expedition to this area that includes data sampling from the summit to 3,600 meters.

© Copyright 2013 Kurt J. Sanderson unless otherwise noted.

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Back from Cerro Plomo Expedition

I just got back late Monday night from Cerro Plomo.  Given the Ruta Patrimonial de Río Olivares park and roads closure and our original expedition team’s changing schedules for our “Plan A Expedition” to Nevado del Plomo (6,070 meters) in the neighboring valley, I had to choose another nearby glacier to study.  I started out solo on Sunday, February 24, for a two-day attempt at Cerro Plomo (5,430 meters).  On the approach to El Plomo, I met several climbers returning home, most only having ascended to Refugio Angostini at 4,600 meters due to dangerously high winds.  As they descended and I ascended, I kept thinking of the mountain forecast that predicted light winds on what would be my summit day with hopes that the forecast would hold fast.

cerro el plomo, mountain climbing, glacier, chile, andes mountainsOnce I got to base camp, I pitched my tent, took a long drink of glacier melt water, and collected my first glacier melt samples at 4,200 meters for researchers at the Byrd Polar Research Center.  I was pondering the following day’s solo summit bid, when two French climbers appeared over the scree hill that marks the western edge of base camp.  We ended up talking with the last of a group of Chilean climbers that were headed down.  It seems the Chilean couple were the only climbers to have gutted it out and boldly on through the wind to summit against odds that day.

The French climbers, one of whom was a new member of DAV, the Chilean mountaineering club, and I quickly decided to team up for a summit bid.  We ended up lucking out with perfect mountaineering weather, sun and light winds, all the way to the top!  Mountain Weather Forecast remained correct as Inti shined favorably on our day.

On our descent from the summit, I started collecting snow and water samples for glaciologists at Byrd Polar Research Center (starting at about 5,200 meters at the top of the Iver Glacier, a glacier that feeds into Santiago’s main water supply).  I also collected rock samples on a 1,000-meter elevation gradient for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and Biosphere 2 (from the 5,400 meter summit down to 4,400 meters).  For each data point, I recorded a GPS coordinate and a few photos of each site to show geography and a close up of the sampling area.

This dataset will help describe how Iver Glacier has shaped the valley and how its resultant water flow changes as it travels from the glacier to the wetland, including interactions with other streams that feed into the main El Cepo stream.  Our water samples are safely in the fridge and rock samples above in the freezer.  I will ship water samples out to Byrd Polar Research Center for water isotope concentration, nutrient, and cation/anion analysis and rock samples to Biosphere 2 for analysis and inclusion in a developing global study on high montane microbes.

There are a few more data points that I will return to collect in the lower valley soon.  Until then, check out a more extensive explanation of the purpose of this glaciology research and alpine microbe research.  Update:  second phase of data collection complete.

Cerro Plomo Chile Andes mountaineering glacier geology climate change research climbing

Summit pic of our team with Robin and Leo before environmental sampling on the descent.  Photo courtesy of Robin Bergsma.

© Copyright 2013 Kurt J. Sanderson unless otherwise noted.