2013 Expedition to Cerro Plomo

On February 25, we summited Cerro Plomo, the 5,430 meter glaciated peak and guardian of Santiago, Chile.  Cerro Plomo was regarded by the Incas as a deity.  In 1954, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 9-year old boy buried in a stone parapet a few hundred meters below the summit, more evidence of sacrificial Incan mountaintop burials that also marks the southernmost extent of the Incan Empire.

My team respectfully asked permission of the mountain to climb and collect a series of glacier and snow melt samples for a team of glaciologists at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center, plus a 1,000-meter elevation gradient of rock microbe samples for the University of Arizona’s Bioshpere-2.  At lower elevations along the approach, we had kept an eye out for Thamnolia vermicularis lichen samples for an evolutionary biology study at Uppsala University in Sweden, but we encountered no lichen matching the description.

We will deliver our data results to our respective research partners so they may continue their research of the El Plomo mountain range.  Ohio State glaciologists will use our data series to help establish a baseline mapping of glacier change and related effects.  Biosphere-2 researchers will analyze our rock samples to explore which microbes aid in the natural functioning of this mountain landscape and provide a better understanding of the initial phases of element cycling in alpine microbial ecosystems and their response to environmental changes.

Our ultimate goal in this quest is to shed light on the importance of Chile’s glacier system as a crucial water source and the alpine ecosystem as an integral part of our greater environment.  We would like to thank all our supporters for making possible this fast and light climb to our final data point, the 5,430-meter summit of Cerro Plomo!  Read more about my experience getting to the summit to collect data and returning to the valley to complete the data set.

cerro plomo geology chile glacier change expedition andes mountains summit

Photo by Kurt Sanderson

© Copyright 2013 Kurt J. Sanderson unless otherwise noted.

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