project . 2019 - 2022 . Closed

PEGASUS: Producing EnerGy and preventing hAzards from SUrface water Storage in Peru

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/S013318/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 506,620 GBP
Status: Closed
10 Feb 2019 (Started) 30 Mar 2022 (Ended)

The Peruvian Andes is home to 71% of the world's tropical glaciers, and the meltwater they supply is an essential resource for people downstream who depend on it for irrigation and sanitation. Further, hydropower plants driven by glacial meltwater provide more than 40% of Peru's electricity. However, Peru's glaciers are receding rapidly, threatening this supply, as well as releasing sediment to valley areas and revealing topographic depressions that may become natural reservoirs for glacier runoff. These thawing landscapes are also very active and can pose risks to downstream people and infrastructure. PEGASUS will assess the opportunities and threats that rapidly evolving landscapes, and natural resources, will bring to the people and businesses of three glacierised Cordilleras of the Peruvian Andes - Urubamba, Vilcabamba and Vilcanota - and make recommendations that will maximise the potential prosperity that can be gained in the face of continued environmental change. Modelling the climate of mountain catchments such as those in Peru is complex because of the interaction of large-scale weather systems with local-scale winds and extreme relief. Uncertainties in modelling the climate feed into projections of glacier change, which themselves are limited by a lack of data on previous glacier behaviour for calibration, and downstream river flows for validation. Robust climate modelling is also required for predictions of permafrost (freezing) heights, which are a key control on ice and bedrock stability, and thus avalanche risk. PEGASUS will produce new and refined projections of climate that will drive cutting edge glacier and permafrost models, to yield firm predictions of how the glaciers and freezing levels will change on a 5-yearly interval from now until the end of the century. As the glaciers recede and hillslopes become more active, sediment will be released into the valleys, and lakes will develop where ice existed. Some of the sediment will be trapped within these glacial lakes, and some will be transferred downstream by river flows. The rate of sediment release by glaciers in advanced states of recession is poorly known, and the role of lakes in capturing the sediment is also poorly quantified. PEGASUS will perform field measurements and modelling to improve understanding of the role of glacial lakes in removing, conveying and storing sediment being released from the glaciers, and characterise the impact this will have on downstream water quality and critical hydropower infrastructure. The locations of future glacial lakes can be predicted by modelling the thickness of the current glaciers and identifying subglacial depressions that will be revealed as the ice recedes. Using a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of this ice-free terrain, it is possible to make a quantitative assessment of the hazard that these new lakes, as well as existing glacial lakes, pose to downstream areas if they were to burst catastrophically. PEGASUS will carry out this assessment for the largest lakes in the Urubamba-Vicabamba-Vilcanota study area and then undertake additional fine-resolution and physically-based numerical modelling to robustly quantify the effects of flooding and debris flows on people, land, the downstream river dynamics, and hydropower infrastructure. PEGASUS will then identify the barriers and opportunities that exist to the use of these lakes for water storage and hydropower development. This assessment will integrate consultations with government (CORECC), a large hydropower company (EGEMSA) and, crucially, communities living in the catchments of the lakes we have analysed. The recommendations that follow will provide information on the sustainability of existing and future hydropower schemes, how to manage water use in future decades and formulate policies that reflect the needs of all stakeholders, and the potential hazards that unstable mountain environments may pose to lives and livelihoods in future years.

Data Management Plans