Project highlights

  • The development and validation of hydrological process understanding of high-altitude mountain wetlands (bofedales) that will transform understanding of mountain water provision to highly dependent and vulnerable end users in Peru.
  • Co-developed with end-users (CONDESAN) to maximise the impact of the project in regional water resource planning in Peru.
  • A multi-disciplinary project that is closely aligned with NERCs most-wanted skills including: freshwater science, fieldwork, laboratory analysis, modelling and numeracy.


Mountains are the world’s water towers because they convey large rainfall inputs and meltwater from snow and glaciers to downstream regions. In the arid lowlands of western Peru, runoff from the Andes mountain range is pivotal in meeting domestic and industrial water demand relating to hydropower production, mining and agriculture (Vuille et al., 2018). However, rising water demand, projected climate warming (Pabón-Caicedo et al., 2020), and the continued retreat of Peru’s mountain glaciers (Zemp et al., 2019) are exacerbating national water scarcity and affirm the need for effective water resource planning. A key bottleneck to this, is lack of hydrological process understanding relating to how Andean rainfall and meltwater propagates through the terrestrial water cycle to downstream end users (Buytaert et al., 2017).

In the Peruvian Andes, vast mountain wetland systems, locally known as bofedales, are thought to be important water stores that regulate the release of stored water seasonally and, therefore, are likely to control the provision of mountain runoff to downstream end users (Buytaert et al., 2011). These natural infrastructures also provide wider ecosystem services by filtering mountain runoff, enriching local biodiversity and acting as a considerable carbon store (Hribljan et al., 2015). They are, however, extremely vulnerable to hydroclimatic shifts and anthropogenic disturbances brought about by climate warming, glacier retreat, and peat exploitation (Polk et al., 2017).

Despite their potential hydrological significance and high vulnerability to environmental change, our current understanding of bofedales hydrology is very limited. This study aims to address this knowledge gap by developing new process-understanding of bofedales hydrology. This will be underpinned by new and existing in-situ field measurements which will be used to characterise bofedales water sources and pathways dynamics and their interactions (e.g. snow, glaciers, hillslopes, groundwater). Once established, the new process-understanding will be implemented in a computational glacier-hydrology model and validated against field data, with the potential to use this to explore the wider significance of bofedales in meeting downstream human and environmental water demand.

Case funding

This project is suitable for CASE funding


British Geological Survey


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator

  • Dr Jonathan Mackay, British Geological Survey


  • Prof. Alan MacDonald, British Geological Survey
  • Prof. David Hannah, University of Birmingham
  • Prof. Wouter Buytaert, Imperial College London
  • Francisco Roman, CONDESAN, Peru

How to apply


The project will focus on several  bofedales monitored as part of the USAID Natural Infrastructure for Water Security (NIWS) project (CONDESAN-ICL) and the Newton-fund RAHU project (ICL-UoB-UTEC-BGS-CONDESAN). New field data will be collected using methods pioneered by the supervisory team including:

  • Low-cost water level sensors developed at ICL (Paul et al., 2020) to collect high-resolution (sub-hourly) surface/subsurface water storage dynamics.
  • Stable isotopes (O and H) to characterise water source and dynamics and flow pathways (MacDonald et al., 2016). The student will utilise the Stable Isotope Facility at the BGS headquarters in Nottinghamshire.
  • Passive seismic (Tromino) geophysics to infer wetland and bedrock profile (Ó Dochartaigh et al., 2019).
  • Non-intrusive permeameter and aquifer testing techniques to establish hydraulic properties of bofedales (Ó Dochartaigh et al., 2019).

The student will incorporate their bofedales process-understanding into the glacier-hydrology modelling code developed at UoB and BGS (Mackay et al., 2018).

Training and skills

Through the BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI), the BGS currently supports ~130 PhD students across 40 universities, and is committed to research training in the applied Earth & Environmental Sciences. The successful student will become part of a large cohort of researchers at the BGS and the UoB and will be encouraged to attend BUFI and university events, and to attend external technical training courses. The student will also have access to the full programme of technical and personal development training run as part of the corporate training programme at the BGS (e.g. GIS, computer programming, scientific writing).

Partners and collaboration

The Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN) is a leading NGO with considerable experience in Andean water resource management. It is part of the ongoing NIWS project, which aims to enhance Peruvian water security through investment in natural infrastructure such as bofedales and, therefore, represents an important end-user for this project.

CONDESAN also have a track record of working with other key stakeholders including the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) and the National institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystem Research (INAIGEM). Their continued hydrological monitoring of bofedales will also feed into the objectives of this project.

Further details

For project enquiries, please contact PI Dr Jonathan Mackay ( If you have any questions concerning studying for a PhD at the British Geological Survey, please contact Dr Jon Naden (

Application for this PhD is via the University of Birmingham Portal and click on the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences program on the application page, the closing date for applications is 11.01.21.

This application should include

  • a brief cover letter, CV, and the contact details for at least two referees
  • a CENTA application form
  • the supervisor and title of the project you are applying for under the Research Information section of the application form.

Referee’s will be invited to submit their references once you submit your application, but we strongly encourage applicants to ensure referees are aware of your submission and expecting a reference request from us. Students are also encouraged to visit and explore the additional information available on the CENTA website.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Field data collection. Two field seasons (pre- and post – wet season).

Year 2

Data analysis and formulation of bofedales process understanding and conceptual model. Paper publication.

Year 3

Incorporation of process understanding into glacier-hydrology code to extrapolate in space and time. Paper publication.

Further reading

BUYTAERT, W., CUESTA-CAMACHO, F. & TOBÓN, C. 2011. Potential impacts of climate change on the environmental services of humid tropical alpine regions. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20, 19-33.

BUYTAERT, W., MOULDS, S., ACOSTA, L., DE BIÈVRE, B., OLMOS, C., VILLACIS, M., TOVAR, C. & VERBIST, K. M. J. 2017. Glacial melt content of water use in the tropical Andes. Environmental Research Letters, 12, 114014.

HRIBLJAN, J., COOPER, D. J., SUELTENFUSS, J. P., WOLF, E. C., HECKMAN, K., LILLESKOV, E. & CHIMNER, R. Carbon storage and long-term rate of accumulation in high-altitude Andean peatlands of Bolivia. 2015.

MACDONALD, A. M., BLACK, A. R., Ó DOCHARTAIGH, B. É., EVEREST, J., DARLING, W. G., FLETT, V. & PEACH, D. W. 2016. Using stable isotopes and continuous meltwater river monitoring to investigate the hydrology of a rapidly retreating Icelandic outlet glacier. Annals of Glaciology, 57, 151-158.

MACKAY, J. D., BARRAND, N. E., HANNAH, D. M., KRAUSE, S., JACKSON, C. R., EVEREST, J. & AÐALGEIRSDÓTTIR, G. 2018. Glacio-hydrological melt and run-off modelling: application of a limits of acceptability framework for model comparison and selection. The Cryosphere, 12, 2175-2210.

Ó DOCHARTAIGH, B. É., MACDONALD, A. M., BLACK, A. R., EVEREST, J., WILSON, P., DARLING, W. G., JONES, L. & RAINES, M. 2019. Groundwater–glacier meltwater interaction in proglacial aquifers. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 23, 4527-4539.

PABÓN-CAICEDO, J. D., ARIAS, P. A., CARRIL, A. F., ESPINOZA, J. C., BORREL, L. F., GOUBANOVA, K., LAVADO-CASIMIRO, W., MASIOKAS, M., SOLMAN, S. & VILLALBA, R. 2020. Observed and Projected Hydroclimate Changes in the Andes. Frontiers in Earth Science, 8.

PAUL, J. D., BUYTAERT, W. & SAH, N. 2020. A Technical Evaluation of Lidar-Based Measurement of River Water Levels. Water Resources Research, 56, e2019WR026810.

POLK, M. H., YOUNG, K. R., BARAER, M., MARK, B. G., MCKENZIE, J. M., BURY, J. & CAREY, M. 2017. Exploring hydrologic connections between tropical mountain wetlands and glacier recession in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Applied Geography, 78, 94-103.

VUILLE, M., CAREY, M., HUGGEL, C., BUYTAERT, W., RABATEL, A., JACOBSEN, D., SORUCO, A., VILLACIS, M., YARLEQUE, C., ELISON TIMM, O., CONDOM, T., SALZMANN, N. & SICART, J.-E. 2018. Rapid decline of snow and ice in the tropical Andes – Impacts, uncertainties and challenges ahead. Earth-Science Reviews, 176, 195-213.

ZEMP, M., HUSS, M., THIBERT, E., ECKERT, N., MCNABB, R., HUBER, J., BARANDUN, M., MACHGUTH, H., NUSSBAUMER, S. U., GÄRTNER-ROER, I., THOMSON, L., PAUL, F., MAUSSION, F., KUTUZOV, S. & COGLEY, J. G. 2019. Global glacier mass changes and their contributions to sea-level rise from 1961 to 2016. Nature, 568, 382-386.


The COVID-19 pandemic could prevent the student from travelling to Peru to conduct fieldwork. The supervisory team have considerable experience of managing field campaigns abroad from the UK when international travel to remote regions including the Andes, Nepal and Africa has not been possible. In this circumstance, the student would, instead, manage a team of field scientists based in Peru from the UK, making use of the large network of researchers and consultants who have, and continue to work with Prof. W Buytaert through his considerable experience of working in South America over the past twenty years.