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Document Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Geography

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

January 2008

Month Degree Awarded

September

Keywords

Climate change, Andes Cordillera, South America, climate models, future projections

Abstract

The tropical Andes are one of the regions where climate change has been most evident. This is consistent with the notion that tropical high-elevation mountains will be more affected by warming. One of the main impacts of this warming is the retreat of glaciers; a process that may affect the availability of water for human consumption, irrigation and power production.

This study presents results related to the most important changes in climate that might be expected in tropical South America, but especially in the tropical Andes, at the end of the 21st century. Results are provided by the comparison of two Regional Climate Model simulations based on the Hadley Center Regional Climate Modeling System, PRECIS. A medium-high CO2 emission scenario simulation for the period 2071-2100 (A2) is compared to a base-line mean climate state simulation for the 1961-1990 period. In addition, some results using a low-medium CO2 emission scenario (B2) are also presented for comparison.

Results show a clear warming trend over South America reaching up to 8º C in northeastern South America. In this same place the largest decrease in precipitation and cloud cover are found. Along the Andes warming reaches up to 7º C in Cordillera Blanca in the A2 scenario and precipitation presents a mixed pattern of increases and decreases across the Cordillera. Warming is expected to be larger at higher elevations and significant changes in temperature variability are expected along both slopes of the Andes based on the A2 scenario. In addition both scenarios (B2 and A2) show an amplification of free tropospheric warming at higher altitudes. Finally, pressure-longitude cross-sections of zonal winds and vertical velocities at the latitudes of the Altiplano and the Cordillera Blanca show weakened mid- and upper tropospheric easterlies and strengthened westerlies in the A2 scenario. This change in the atmospheric circulation is conducive to a decrease in precipitation in those areas, and consequently may negatively impact glacier mass balance.

In summary the obtained results reveal that anthropogenic climate change, as predicted with the A2 scenario, may constitute a serious threat to the survival of many tropical glaciers along the Andes Cordillera.

First Advisor

Mathias Vuille

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