Climate Researchers at UMass Amherst Returning to Bolivian Mountains for Snow Samples

AMHERST, Mass - Three University of Massachusetts climatologists will return this month to satellite-linked weather stations in the Andes, atop two of Bolivia''s highest mountains, Illimani and the extinct volcano Sajama. The group will take snow samples that may offer clues about the effects of El Nino and La Nina on precipitation. The team is led by Raymond Bradley, head of the geosciences department, and includes graduate student Carsten Braun and adjunct assistant professor Douglas Hardy. The project, funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, is a collaboration with Ohio State University.

Collecting the samples is no small task. Despite the tropical South American location, the altitude and heavy winds will require the team to bring along Arctic survival gear. Temperatures may fall to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and will hover at 10 degrees Fahrenheit during daylight hours. The ascents are expected to take about four days, and will be followed by approximately three days of work on the summit.

In the Andes, snow may fall at the rate of about 2½ meters (about 7 feet) a year. Researchers must dig through the snow to the ground, examine the vertical edge of the pit, called the snow-wall, and then take samples every three centimeters. Sophisticated chemical analyses of the snow samples may provide detailed information about climate conditions during the past two years. Scientists are particularly interested in learning what effects El Nino and La Nina have had on precipitation. Past expeditions have had the team drilling through a 400-foot-thick ice cap, garnering clues to weather conditions 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. The team''s most recent trip to Bolivia was in the spring of 1998.

Researchers will also examine weather station records and service the weather monitoring equipment on the two peaks. The equipment is designed to feed weather information back to the Amherst campus via a satellite located 24,000 miles above the Earth.

NOTE: The team is sporadically available by email at Telephone interviews may be arranged once the team has reached the summit, via the UMass News Office, 413/545-0444. Local contacts are adjunct assistant professor Mathias Vuille and Climate Lab Manager Frank Keimig. They may be reached at 413/545-0659.