Model the Amazon Headwaters: Mazar River Project
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 refer 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 well-being, and a means to oversee our efforts to help them recover from deforestation, agriculture, over-grazing and infrastructure construction.
FCT has carried 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 3 points of hydroelectric production, contributing a third of Ecuador’s total electrical output. To model the Nudo del Azuay watersheds is vital both to electrical production and to maintaining the ecological health of the region.
Fundación Cordillera has focused its efforts since 2000 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. Overarching goals of the project are:
1. To generate a scientific record of runoff and sediments,
2. To model the relationship between upstream landcover and the behavior of streams,
and their delivery of sediments to downstream reaches,
3. To develop a strategy to reduce erosion in the upstream landscapes, and
4. 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, to establish additional monitoring points on other rivers within the larger Paute watershed; and two, 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.
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 record provide for understanding
• How do land use activities within the watershed influence water quantity and
quality? How can the long-term record at the Mazar be used to leverage and
provide context for rapid assessments of tributary conditions through limited
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 gages located at the river station and at the La Libertad
See the Resources/Publications page for available reports and studies about the Mazar watershed.