In December 2023, Bethan Davies, Owen King and Jeremy Ely travelled to Santiago, Chile, to meet up with our colleagues Juan Luis-Garcia and Claudio Bravo from Chile. Our goal was simple: to install an automatic weather station (AWS) adjacent to Glaciar Universidad in the Central Andes, some 6 hr drive from Santiago. Glaciar Universidad is an important glacier, providing water for a hydroelectric power station and power for the regional area. The glacier lies in the Rapel hydrological catchment, not far from the city of San Fernando.
Initial departures were challenged by snowy conditions at Heathrow, but Davies and Ely made it safely to Santiago more or less as expected, leaving King to enjoy the delights of Heathrow for an extra day. Tensions were high as the AWS remained in a customs compound in Santiago even as the aeroplane wheels were up at Heathrow. However some last minute planning and quick action by King meant that as Ely and Davies touched down for a brief layover in Sao Paulo, we heard that the AWS was in Juan Luis-Garcia’s safe possession. Nothing like last minute logistics delays to keep you on your toes.
The first day in Santiago was mostly occupied by Davies, Ely and Bravo shopping for food and camping supplies, working hard while King rested up in Costa Coffee in Santiago. But the team were united that evening, and enjoyed a meal together. The second day was spend loading up the rental vans with hundreds of kilos of equipment and making our way south to Glaciar Universidad.
The drive to the glacier involved some rather exciting driving on gravel and dirt roads, but we were pleased to arrive at the glacier by about 1900 hours, ready to pitch our tends, cook up some scran and get our heads down.
The only water available to drink was glacial meltwater with a heavy silt load, but our trusty water filter soon took care of that.
In the map below you can see our campsite location, below the terminus of Glaciar Universidad and above the hydroelectric power station. At 2500 m above sea level, at this altitude in the Central Andes, the station is ideally located to capture the phase change between solid and liquid precipitation.
The next day, it was time to drive up valley and find a good site to install the AWS. A kilometre from our camp we came across a group of medics, training in mountain rescue techniques. It is hard to feel like you’re doing remote, challenging fieldwork 1 km away from 20 doctors and mountaineering experts! But they promised to look after us, and assured us that they ‘had our backs’, which was nice to know!
We found the perfect site for the AWS, adjacent to (but clearly not on) an alluvial fan, in a stable position, on the moraine.
It turns out that installing an AWS mainly involves digging. Lots of digging.
Lots and lots and lots of digging.
Each night, after digging and working all day, we;d head back down to camp, filter water, cook dinner, then play cards together until dark, before retiring to our cosy tents. We even braved washing ourselves in the icy water!
Eventually, after three days hard graft, we had the AWs installed. Hurrah!
The AWS needs to be visited periodically to obtain the data, and to maintain the station. Data will eventually be uploaded to an open-access portal. Stay tuned to find out more!