By | Alia Payne ’15
Vashon Island, Washington

In June I had a rare opportunity to participate in a study of glaciers high in the Andes of Peru through the Keck Consortium, of which Macalester is a member. It was thrilling to work on climate research studies with a highly qualified team of glaciologists.

We spent three weeks in two valleys outside the beautiful Peruvian mountain town of Huaraz. These valleys contain paternoster lakes—lakes formed by glaciers, now all connected down the length of the valley by streams. Sediment deposited in the lakes aids in reconstructing past glacial movements and climatic responses through a variety of clues including composition, grain size, organic content, and layering.

Studying the movement of glaciers is important for better understanding glacial responses to climate change. Climate change affects glacial melt, which is very important to the arid parts of Peru dependent on glacial melt for water.

We spent the majority of our time camping at 14,000 to 16,000 feet in the high glacial valleys. Many of us felt the effects of altitude and we were often chilled by the Peruvian winter, but the fantastic views of icy glaciers and towering mountains made up for the challenges of life at high altitude. Every day involved long hikes and hours spent gathering samples from lakes. Every night we shared a candlelit tent dinner and spent hours talking.

I learned immense amounts about academia, field work in geology and, of course, the glaciers themselves. During the school year, under the guidance of Professor Kelly MacGregor, chair of the Macalester Geology Department, I will analyze my samples, write a paper for my capstone project, and present at a Keck Consortium meeting. I am grateful to Macalester’s Geology Department for the rigorous courses and knowledgeable advisors who enabled me to take advantage of this opportunity.

October 27 2014

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