Glaciers and Water


An ancient stone spout and Shiva worship site in Harrisidhi, a Newar farming village outside Kathmandu. Above it is a municipal water project for centralized/clean water supply being installed by the government. Photo by Olivia Molden

Glaciers are critical for water supplies in mountain regions worldwide because they help regulate annual flows: they release meltwater in the dry season when there is less precipitation. Glaciers thus help reduce water variability for societies downstream.

In Peru, for example, concerns about shrinking glaciers and dwindling water supplies have increased dramatically because the country depends on hydroelectricity and because glaciers help feed irrigation canals that run the country’s vast export-oriented agriculture sector, such as Chavimochic.

To date, there is relatively little research analyzing the societal dimensions of water management under a changing climate and beneath the shrinking glaciers — whether in the Andes or the Himalayas or Alps. More research is necessary to understand how glacier runoff variability and human water use practices intersect in mountain regions, which has been the goal of the Glacier Lab as well as Carey’s work through the Transdisciplinary Andean Research Network.