Expedition Date: SEPTEMBER 2018
Field Team Members: Paul A. Mayewski1 (Expedition Leader), Jefferson Cardia Simões1,2 (Expedition Leader), Dan Dixon1, Mariusz Potocki1, Charles I. Rodda1, Heather M. Clifford1, Mike Waszkiewicz1, Ronaldo Torma Bernardo2, Flávia Alves Tavares2, Franciele Schwanck Carlos1,2, Shugui Hou3, Gino Casassa Rogazinski4, Oscar Vilca Gómez5, Harrison JaraInfantes5, Baker Perry1,6, Heather Guy6
1. Climate Change Institute, 2. Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, 3. Nanjing University, 4. University of Magallanes, 5. INAIGEM, 6. Appalachian State University
Expedition Funding: The expedition was funded by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) to the Brazilian National Institute for Cryospheric Sciences and the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC). This expedition was additionally funded through a grant to the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, from the US National Science Foundation (#1600018).
Acknowledgments: We would like to acknowledge our funding sources, participating universities and all the team members who assisted in the research performed on this expedition. Throughout this expedition, we received immense logistic support from our mountaineering team under Adrián Ccahuana Condori. We would like to express our gratitude to these helpful workers.
For further information on the expedition, see the following article by Brazilian journalist, Herton Escobar:

Expedition Report:

In the current state of our changing climate, low latitude alpine glaciers and ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. Within these glaciers resides a unique and well-preserved record of past climate and atmospheric conditions that is vital to expanding our knowledge of modern and future climate change. It is crucial to collect these records before the information is unsalvageable, but extracting ice cores from alpine glaciers is becoming more difficult due to increased glacier melt. Previous records extracted from the Quelccaya ice cap (5670-m a.s.l.) have recorded abrupt climate changes in the Andes and Southern Hemisphere over the past millennia and beyond. However, new technology has emerged since these records were collected with the ability to produce sub-annually resolved records, facilitating a better understanding of climate behavior and meteorological-scale events in the high mountain regions of South America. Aerosols sourced from the Amazon rainforest and transported to the Quelccaya Ice Cap can provide valuable information about atmospheric circulation and climatic changes over the past millennia. Recovering high resolution data, whether from ice cores, snow samples or instrumental records from the tropical glaciers in the Andes, is crucial for developing appropriate mitigation and adaptation policies for water usage and predicting the effects of future climate change. The Quelccaya ice cap is especially important because its meltwater is an essential water resource for local ecosystems along with irrigation, drinking water and power generation for the people living downvalley in both rural and urban areas.

Location & Elevation of Quelccaya Ice Cap.

During the month of September 2018, a total of 19 researchers from 8 different nationalities including the United States, Brazil, Peru, China and Chile, worked together to pursue multiple related research missions on the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes. The research objectives performed by the collaborative group of researchers consisted of collecting snow, ice and instrumental records to interpret paleo-climate, modern day climate and snow/ice dynamics as well as identifying the link between them. Using the combination of different snow and ice collection techniques, such as drilling ice cores and digging snow trenches, we can gain a broader knowledge of the overall climate dynamics and atmospheric circulation down to sub-annual resolution in the regions surrounding the Quelccaya ice cap. The Climate Change Institute’s research goal for this expedition was to determine an adequate drilling site by performing the first geophysical survey, on Quelccaya ice cap and to collect basal ice for analysis using our ultra-high-resolution laser ablation technology.  On this, our first expedition to the region, we recovered a 25 m core and 7 m of basal ice from an ice cliff. Our research partners at Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul dug a snow trench at the highest part of the glacier and a horizontal core near the ice front. Our partners at Appalachian State University tended to their weather station located at summit and collected snow samples.


Over the course of our month-long expedition, we travelled from Cusco, Peru to several small towns in the surrounding areas to acclimatize before trekking to the ice cap. Our research team travelled to the towns of Chinchero, Chillca and Phinaya for the first week (9/4-9/11), getting up to an altitude of about 5000 m (a.s.l.). While in the town of Phinaya, just south of Quelccaya, our research group was invited to the local school to discuss our science and how it relates to them, as the Quelccaya ice cap is a vital water resource for their town. After the presentations, the residents of the small town gathered outside of the school house where the younger class of children performed a ceremonial dance to show their appreciation for our involvement with their school and community. We stopped at two more sites along the way over the next few days, Lower Lakes and Upper Lakes, to help with acclimatization. On the 15th of September, we hiked to the edge of the glacier and set up base camp. While waiting for the drill to arrive at base camp, we began prep work and performed smaller side projects, such as testing a 3-inch Kovacs drill on the ice edge and Dan Dixon repaired all the broken objects at camp. By the 22nd of September, a team of Peruvian researchers (Oscar Vilca Gomez and Harrison Jara Infantes) with the help of Gino Rogazinski and Mariusz Potocki, performed a GPR survey of the projected area of drilling and determined the optimum spot. Over the next week, the drill equipment was moved to the summit where a camp was set up for drillers (Mike Waszkiewicz and Dan Dixon) and helpers (Mariusz Potocki and Ronaldo Bernardo). During the drilling process, we collected a small portion from each section of the core to melt and sample for stable water isotopes. On the 1st of October, we collected 7 m of ice from a layered cliff side by chainsaw (Charles Rodda and Mariusz Potocki) and the ice samples and ice core were ready to be transported back to Cusco, and eventually to the Climate Change Institute in Orono, ME.

Figure 2. Local school presentation

Figure 3: Ice Driller

Figure 4: Drillers Extracting Ice.

Figure 5: Collecting Basal Ice.

Figure 6. Descending from the edge of the glacier.

Figure 7: Camp at the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

Heather Clifford, posing next to a view of the Peruvian Andes while trekking up to the Quelccaya ice cap
Graduate student, Heather Clifford, posing next to a view of the Peruvian Andes while trekking up to the Quelccaya ice cap. (Photo: Mariusz Potocki).


Heather Clifford, exploring an ice cave below the Quelccaya ice cap for an adequate space to store ice cores.
Graduate student, Heather Clifford, exploring an ice cave below the Quelccaya ice cap for an adequate space to store ice cores. (Photo: Mariusz Potocki).
Once returned to the Climate Change Institute, the ice retrieved from the Quelccaya ice cap will be analyzed for trace-element chemistry in the W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility, as well as sampled using a continuous flow analysis and stable water isotopes. We anticipate the data will reveal environmental signals which can inform us of atmospheric circulation changes over the past ~40 years. Our goal for the future is to return to the Quelccaya ice cap and extract a deep ice core to bedrock.