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Model the Amazon Headwaters: Mazar River Project

Rivers tell the story of their watersheds. The science of hydrology translates that story for us into the words and numbers that speak to environmental decision-makers, and FCT works to facilitate this process.

 

We need to understand Andean watersheds because they provide vital environmental services to human populations—for domestic consumption, irrigation, industry, and hydroelectric production —and because their rivers faithfully reflect the condition of their upland forests, páramos, and agricultural lands. When our hydrologists say, “Model the Amazon Headwaters,“ they are referring to a structured kind of understanding, where causes and effects are identified and measurable. If scientists can model the rivers of the Andean Amazon, we possess a tool to measure watershed wellbeing and a means of overseeing our efforts to help them recover from deforestation, agriculture, overgrazing, and infrastructure construction.


FCT has been carrying forward the Mazar River Project since 2014 in the buffer zone of Sangay National Park, with the overarching goal of understanding the behavior of this river and its tributaries. The Mazar was chosen because it is representative of other mountain streams within the larger Paute watershed, one that currently hosts three points of hydroelectric production, contributing a third of Ecuador’s total electrical output. Modeling the Nudo del Azuay watersheds is vital both to electrical production and to maintaining the ecological health of the region.

Since 2000, Fundación Cordillera has focused its efforts in five watersheds of the mountainous region called the Nudo del Azuay.

The Mazar River Project recording station monitors stream stage and turbidity and an automated sampler for event-based collection of stream water samples, providing high frequency data that reduces the uncertainty of observations. The project is run by FCT with support from participating scientists. The overarching goals of the project are:

  • to generate a scientific record of runoff and sediments;     

  • to model the relationship between upstream landcover and the behavior of streams,

       and their delivery of sediments to downstream reaches;

  • to develop a strategy to reduce erosion in the upstream landscapes; and

  • to contribute to the professional capacity of university students and local hydrologists.


The Mazar River Project is a collaboration between CELEC (Ecuador’s consortium of public electricity companies), the University of Vermont, and FCT, with sustained support of students from the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana (UPS) of Cuenca, who carry out the laboratory analysis of sediments and help download and order flow data. FCT is committed to making data from this initiative publicly available.

With additional funding in the coming years, the Mazar River Project will continue to monitor the Mazar river, to generate a more accurate model of the intricate relationship among the variables of topography, precipitation, native vegetation, and human impacts. But two other opportunities lie ahead: one is to establish additional monitoring points on other rivers within the larger Paute watershed; another is to motivate government and civil conservation organizations in Ecuador to develop monitoring programs in other areas of the upper Amazon watershed, fashioned on our experience in the Mazar.

Technical aspects of the Mazar River Project

 

We welcome the participation of collaborating scientists interested in using the site’s infrastructure and data record to establish new research and assist us with maintaining the long-term monitoring record at the site. We envision research that will answer and expand upon the following research questions:

  • What are the temporal dynamics of river fluxes (water, sediment, solutes) in

mountain rivers such as the Mazar?

 

  • How do fluxes of water, sediment, and solutes from this river compare to those of other Andean rivers, and what new insights can be gained from the observation of river fluxes at high temporal frequency?

 

  • How are river fluxes changing over time and in response to extremes (floods, droughts)? What insights do the long-term records provide for understanding these changes?

 

  • How do land use activities within the watershed influence water quantity and quality? How can the long-term record  the Mazar be used to leverage and provide context for rapid assessments of tributary conditions through limited sampling campaigns?

A note on the Mazar site instrumentation

The Mazar River site is equipped with a suite of instruments for continuous measurements. These include:

  • an ISCO 6712 automated water sampler for the extraction of stream water

  • an ISCO 720 submerged flow module with pressure transducer for measurement of river water level

  • a Forestry Technology Services DTS-12 Digital Turbidity Sensor, recalibrated
    annually (record available for January 2015 – November 2018)

  • Davis tipping bucket rain gauges located at the river station and at the La Libertad field camp samples

See the Resources: Publications page for available reports and studies about the Mazar watershed.

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