Text and photographs by Andy Maser, a National Geographic Young Explorers grant recipient and Epicocity Project team member
We’ve spent one week in Bolivia now, and already we’ve completed a fantastic first descent, discussed effects of climate change with Bolivia’s chief hydrologist, and partied the night away with locals in La Paz. I’m high in the Bolivian Andes with explorer-filmmaker Trip Jennings on a monthlong expedition that combines elements of adventure, science, and adaptation in an environment on the brink of environmental crisis.
The glaciers perched high atop the 22,000-plus-foot peaks surrounding the Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto have followed a natural pattern of growing and shrinking since humans have inhabited the region. This cycle ensures that farmers have water for crops and cities have the water they need to operate. Global climate change has thrown this cycle off, though, and now Bolivia’s glaciers are shrinking much more rapidly than they can regenerate. This is a critically important problem because millions of people depend on meltwater from these glaciers for daily use. Bolivian farmers have already begun to notice that less water is flowing from the mountains—an unfortunate turn of events for a country that produces a comparatively tiny amount of carbon emissions.