Soil Moisture Storage and Variability in the Cordillera Blanca

The glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca are rapidly retreating as a result of rising temperatures, transforming the hydrology and impacting the socio-economic and environmental systems of the Rio Santa basin. An unstudied aspect of the regional hydrology is the role of soil moisture in seasonal water storage, and how it is related to associated climatic, hydrogeologic and environmental dynamics. It is hypothesised that soil moisture constitutes an important yet heterogeneous reservoir of groundwater that dynamically couples glacier melt, atmospheric fluxes and land cover. Thus soil moisture may act as a control on both water provision and primary production of key grazing lands, especially during the dry season. Variability in soil moisture therefore has an implicit role in water, food and livelihood security for downstream stakeholders. Climate change is causing shifting hydrologic regimes and altered land use in the wake of rapid glacier retreat that will likely alter this storage reservoir. It is therefore imperative to understand the patterns, processes and drivers of temporal and spatial variability in soil moisture content (SMC). This research aims to answer fundamental questions concerning the regional hydrology and processes of water supply to downstream communities within the Cordillera Blanca.