Spatial occurrence and hydrological significance of Andean permafrost (Agua Negra, San Juan, Argentina)

Text by Philipp Reichartz

© Irene Johannsen/GIUB

In spring 2021 the project-proposal “Spatial occurrence and hydrological significance of Andean permafrost (Agua Negra, San Juan, Argentina) (HyPerm)” was successfully approved by the German Research Foundation (Project number: 461744503). 

With a project duration of three years starting in August 2021, HyPerm investigates the spatial distribution, geomorphological characteristics and hydrological significance of Andean permafrost. More specifically, the project members will study in detail the permafrost distribution and ice-content of blockslopes and taluses and will assess the contribution of permafrost landforms to the hydrological system of the Agua Negra catchment (Province San Juan, semiarid Andes of Argentina) (see Fig. 1). The semiarid Andean cryosphere is an important hydrological reservoir that controls runoff and groundwater recharge through glacier melt, precipitation, snowmelt (including perennial snowfields), and water releases from the active layer in the extensive permafrost regions. The project intends to close an important research gap, as the hydrological influence of permafrost in mountain systems is still insufficiently represented in scientific literature. Especially in semiarid mountain watersheds with sparse glacier cover, a better understanding of the periglacial runoff contribution is of great importance for the local communities. This is particularly true in times of climate change, which will affect the water and energy balance of mountain regions worldwide.

Findings from our previous DFG project (PermArg) on rock glaciers will be integrated and extended through remote- sensing, mapping, statistical modelling, soil temperature monitoring, and geophysical surveys (incl. four-phase modelling) on so far overlooked blockslopes and taluses. Continuous discharge measurements will be conducted at six gauging stations along the course of the Agua Negra river which will, together with repeated hydrogeochemical analyses of different water sources in the catchment, provide input data for hydrograph separations. We hypothesize that a significant part of the (seasonally) thawing active layer of these periglacial landforms (taluses, blockslopes, rock glaciers) contributes to the overall discharge and groundwater recharge. Our findings will significantly improve our knowledge regarding the occurrence and hydrological importance of permafrost in the semiarid Andes.

Take a look at the achievements of our first fieldtrip by using the following button: 

HyPerm Fotos_LotharSchrott_2018.jpg
(A) The upper ANC with the small Agua Negra glacier in the background, view to NE; (B) the Agua Negra creek appr. 1 km below the glacier, planned gauging station #1 at appr. 4400 m a.s.l.; (C) exposed buried ice from a former pinnacles field located within the blockslope shown in D; (D) view to predominant blockslopes and talus slopes, where geophysical surveys will be carried out; the blockslope has a vertical extension of > 800 meters in altitude, view to SW; (E) front of rock glacier Dos Lenguas with rock glacier spring running parallel to Agua Negra creek; (F) planned gauging station at the lower part of the Agua Negra basin at 3150 m a.s.l., view to N. © Lothar Schrott/GIUB

For further information please contact the project members:

Avatar Schrott

Lothar Schrott

Principal Investigator
Avatar Köhler

Tamara Köhler

PhD Student "Geomorphic characteristics and permafrost hydrology of a semi-arid High Andean catchment"
Avatar Ortiz

Diana Agostina Ortiz

PhD Student "Geophysical study of Andean permafrost on talus slopes and blockslopes in the Agua Negra Basin"
Avatar Stammler

Melanie Stammler

PhD Student "Interannual and seasonal surface change in a glacial-periglacial (de)coupled landscape & its implications on local hydrology"
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