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John D. All Department of Geography and Geology Western Kentucky University

Rebecca J. Cole Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research University of Colorado at Boulder


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1975 Jan 1989 Jan 1996 Jan 2000 Jan 2010 Jan

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0 - 3000m

3000 - 4000m 4000 - 5000m over 5000m

Mean NDVI Value Through Time for the AOI

The Cordillera Blanca contains a broad array of life zones ranging from subtropical and tropical to high altitude tundra across large precipitation and temperature gradients. Vegetation targeted in this study include grasslands/tundra, shrubs, and remnant patches of native forest (primarily Polylepis species).



Small scale agriculture and livestock raising in the buffer zone

Grazing and heavy tourism uses in the national park

Classify imagery from Landsat MSS and TM to delineate grass, shrub, and woodland boundaries (selected years between 1970 and 2012) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) used to calculate vegetative productivity Compare to climate variables (such as an ENSO index) NOAA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) used to calculate fire frequency


• 340,000 ha protected area Huascaran National Park,

with 170,00 ha buffer zone established in 1975 • Contains largest concentration of tropical glaciers in the world • 2400m - 6768m asl; 640 1400 mm annual precipitation • Grazing and extraction of plants for traditional uses allowed within the protected area

Time Series Vegetation Analysis Results Using NDVI

Vegetation increased in the 3000-4000m and 4000-5000m elevation intervals

Evidence of a steady increase in NDVI values since 1975 for overall area

Little change in areas below park boundary or at highest elevations


Between 2011 and 2013 we measured ~300 10-m radius (~314m2) plots in 7 major valleys across the length of the Cordillera Blanca Measured altitude, slope, aspect, geomorphology, ground cover type, vegetation structure, and assessed disturbance (grazing intensity) and human impacts In 2012, we established fourteen 250m2 vegetation monitoring plots in shrub, grass, and forest areas Measurements include tree height, diameter (dbh), regeneration through seedlings or sprouting (forest core to edge), extent of ground cover classes, shrub density and height, and forb species cover in eight 1m2 subplots In 2013, we will establish an additional twenty plots throughout major valleys and begin monitoring of woody seedlings


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Fire count in Huascaran National Park

Fire count in the Buffer zone

Seasonal fire counts 2002-2010

In this study, we combine remote sensing (coarse-scale) and ground-based measurements (fine-scale) to examine patterns of vegetation change over the past 40 years in Huascaran National Park and adjacent communal areas. We are testing how these measurements can be used as predictors of vegetation community structure and to differentiate between anthropogenic and climatic drivers of change. We are also measuring how these shifts may alter key ecosystem functions such as carbon and nutrient cycling.



The tropical Peruvian Andes provide critical ecosystem services to human populations and harbor extraordinary levels of biodiversity. These high altitude ecosystems are under increasing pressure from human activities including deforestation, burning, and overgrazing. In addition, the region is undergoing rapid changes due to warming temperatures and altered patterns of precipitation. Because of the strong interdependence of human and natural systems in the Peruvian Andes, the region is considered to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Our research aims to generate data informing conservation strategies and adaptation to climate change in this region.

Polylepis forest vegetation monitoring plots established in stand center and edge

In 2013, we will test how potential changes in vegetation composition (forest, shrub, grassland transition) affect litter chemistry, litter mass loss, and rates of nutrient release across an elevational gradient. We will monitor soil temperature and moisture to assess moisture and temperature sensitivities of the selected litter types.

Fire incidence and area in Huascaran National Park between 20002010 (MODIS).

Fire size is largely correlated to vegetation load (fuel load) which is related to precipitation variables (ENSO cycles)

Fires initiate inside the national park rather than in the buffer zone

Cause of fires is anthropogenic rather than natural sources of ignition

This study is carried out by volunteer scientists and climbers with the American Climber Science Program (ACSP). Research is ongoing in 2013-2014. Additional ACSP projects include measurements of contaminants on glaciers, aquatic toxicology, assessment of local livelihood options and vulnerability to climate change, and analysis of CO2 concentration on tropical glaciers. Visit us at:,, or

Support for this research was provided by the American Alpine Club and our sponsor institutions. Parque Nacional Huascaran and the Universidad Nacional Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo kindly provided logistical support and access to research sites. We thank Ricardo Gómez López, Ricardo Villanueva Ramírez, Julio Palomino Cadenas, Martin Salvador Poma, Edson Ramírez, Chris Benway, and the many climber volunteers who made this project possible.

Cole poster anthropogenic and climate factors affecting land cover in pnh cole and all  

Poster for presentation given to High Mountains Adaptation Partnership in Huaraz, Peru on 13 July 2013.

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