Groundwater Buffers Decreasing Glacier Melt in an Andean Watershed—But Not Forever

Lauren D. Somers, Jeffrey M. McKenzie, Bryan G. Mark, Pablo Lagos, Gene Hua Crystal Ng, Andrew D. Wickert, Christian Yarleque, Michel Baraër, Yamina Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Accelerating mountain glacier recession in a warming climate threatens the sustainability of mountain water resources. The extent to which groundwater will provide resilience to these water resources is unknown, in part due to a lack of data and poorly understood interactions between groundwater and surface water. Here we address this knowledge gap by linking climate, glaciers, surface water, and groundwater into an integrated model of the Shullcas Watershed, Peru, in the tropical Andes, the region experiencing the most rapid mountain-glacier retreat on Earth. For a range of climate scenarios, our model projects that glaciers will disappear by 2100. The loss of glacial meltwater will be buffered by relatively consistent groundwater discharge, which only receives minor recharge (~2%) from glacier melt. However, increasing temperature and associated evapotranspiration, alongside potential decreases in precipitation, will decrease groundwater recharge and streamflow, particularly for the RCP 8.5 emission scenario.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13016-13026
Number of pages11
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 28 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank SENAMHI, ANA, and IGP for the collection of meteorological and hydrological data and Sin Chan Chou for the support in acquiring regional climate data from the CPTEC repository. The National Science Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development provided funding as part of the NSF‐USAID PEER Program (project 3‐127), NSF EAR‐1316432, and additional funding was provided by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We would also like to thank Richard Niswonger for the technical advice in implementing GSFLOW and acknowledge the help of our field assistants: Américo and Alvaro González Caldua, Oliver Wigmore, Pierrick Lamontagne‐Hallé, Nadine Shatilla, and Emilio Mateo. Input and output files for GSFLOW, Matlab code for the glacier melt module, and observed streamflow, groundwater, and glacier data are available from our online repository: .


  • Andes
  • integrated modeling
  • mountain hydrogeology
  • mountain hydrology
  • tropical glaciers
  • water resources

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