AWS installation in Aysén

By Emily Potter

In January 2024, a team from Deplete and Retreat travelled to the Aysén region of Chile to set up a weather station near the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. Alejandro Dussaillant, Tamsin Edwards, Wouter Buytaert and Emily Potter travelled from the UK, meeting project partner Iñigo Irarrázaval Chile. A huge thanks to our colleagues at the Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia (CIEP) for their advice, help on the scouting tour, and selection of tools. An equally huge thanks to Andrés Rosas and his fantastic team of guides our fantastic guides, without whom we would never have been able to transport the weather station, and many of us might still be stuck on the mountain!

Figure 1: Map of the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) location as a yellow cross on the map and red dot on the insert, with the glaciers shown in red outline from the Randolph Glacier Inventory  (RGI) version 7.

Preparation in Coyhaique

The team were buoyant after an email a few days before we set off confirming that the weather station had finally arrived in Coyhaique. After a brief stop in Santiago to pick up some extra weather station poles, the UK contingent flew to Coyhaique to meet Iñigo, pick up the hire trucks and collect the weather station. We then suffered the first setback of the trip, when it emerged that half of the weather station boxes had mistakenly been collected by a construction company, who must have been quite surprised to open their shipment and discover a present-day weather sensor! After some determined phone calls, it was agreed that Alejandro would take one truck to try and rescue the remaining boxes while the rest of the team collected some final supplied and continued to the Puerto Rio Tranquillo, a village in Southern Chile. 

Figure 2: One truck loaded with, disappointingly, only half a weather station [photo by Emily Potter]

Finding the perfect weather station location near Puerto Rio Tranquilo

With the full weather station and team assembled in Puerto Rio Tranquilo; Wouter, Iñigo and Emily set off on a scouting expedition, together with some scientists from CIEP university and led by Andrés Rosas and his excellent team of guides. The climbs were gruelling and the hills steep, but the views were spectacular!

Figure 3: Iñigo and Emily on a scouting trip, with some tricky terrain but beautiful views. [Photo by Alejandro Dussaillant]

Figure 4: The scouting team make it to the snowline [photo by Emily Potter]

Figure 5: Emily pausing to admire the views, with Lake General Carrera in the background. [Photo by Iñigo Irarrázaval]

The final weather station position was chosen in a wide, open valley which drains into the Rio Tranquilo. The data from the weather station will be used to better understand the rain-snow partition in the Andes, a crucial aim of the Deplete and Retreat project. In addition, the village of Puerto Rio Tranquilo has previously used a water supply from the Estero Chifiro river, but due to issues with the water supply, which may be due to declining melt from snow and ice, there is a plan to switch the water supply to the village to the Rio Tranquilo. We hope that the precipitation measurements will be helpful to the village, as well as the science aims of deplete and retreat.

Final installation

The next day, the whole team hiked up to the chosen weather station location, this time with camping kit to allow for a quick start the following morning. A huge hole was dug to hold the Pluvio (which measures precipitation) and its wind shields to ensure rain and snow are not blown out of the bucket. Another hole houses the present-day weather sensor, which detects whether precipitation is falling as rain, snow, hail or graupel. The main weather station was built to measure radiation, wind, temperature and pressure, but there was one more hurdle to overcome with a missing wire and one instrument not working. Most of the team returned to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to consult with colleagues in the UK and Chile, while Alejandro remained camping at the AWS and sent pictures of the weather station wiring.

After some quick detective work from our colleagues, Iñigo and Emily returned to the weather station to complete the final tweaks. Meanwhile, Wouter and Alejandro went to scope for locations for the installation of water level sensors to estimate river flow, which will provide Wouter and his team with real-time data on the river flow in the region.

After a celebratory pisco sour, the team returned triumphant to Coyhaique. The weather station will be maintained by the Deplete and Retreat team and CIEP, and we hope it will provide measurements for years to come.

Figure 6: Tamsin with Dora the dog. [Photo by Emily Potter]

Figure 7: Alejandro (left) and Wouter (right) digging a large hole for the Pluvio. [Photo by Emily Potter]

Figure 8: Iñigo with the weather station installed. [Photo by Emily Potter]


Emily Potter is a research associate at the University of Sheffield, working in WP2. She runs climate models to understand climate processes over the Andes. 

In DaR, Emily will provide past and future climate model output to better understand the processes behind snowfall in the Andes. This data will also be used as input data for the glacier modelling in WP3.


Guest posts are invited articles written by experts in their field.

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