Remember when our science reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin hung out with The Nature Conservancy’s vanguard scientist Rob McDonald in Rob’s bathroom to talk about how to maintain enough water for people?
Well, Drapkin is back. This time, she’s turned up at about 11,000 feet above sea level in the rare high-elevation Andean mountain grasslands of Colombia. She can’t be near too much water up there right?
Well, not so fast. Drapkin has a riddle for us: what looks like a desert but is really full of water?
Check out the video above …
The answer is: a Paramo – a high-altitude grassland ecosystem found mostly in the Andean mountains that looks like a desert but has enough water stored beneath the surface to supply 20 million Colombian’s with their water – including in the major cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali.
In the video, Drapkin interviews a Nature Conservancy conservation biologist based in Colombia, Tomas Walschburger, who is working to protect paramos like the one in Chingaza National Park (featured in the video).
Check out the 1:37 minute mark where Walschburger squeezes out a section of grass like a soaked sponge. Pretty cool!
Paramos are protected by law in Colombia, but, unfortunately, the paramos are being threatened by agriculture and cattle ranching moving up slope as well as by a new problem: beetles and caterpillars moving into the paramo range. This is due in part — Walschburger believes — to gradual temperature increases in the climate causing pests and pathogens to migrate higher up to maintain their living conditions.
“For a plant to move, it’s very slow, but insects can move very fast,” says Walschburger.
These insects are plaguing the plant life in the paramos.
Scientists still don’t know how many degrees of temperate change the paramos can take, but what is known is that they are crucial for people.
“Bogota, Medellin, Cali, which are the three biggest cities in Colombia, depend completely on the water supply from paramos,” says Walschburger. “So we are helping to protect these paramos, because they are critically important for people.”
For more information, check out the Colombia page of Nature.org and this feature story on how we’re working to help protect Bogota’s water supply in particular.
Matt Barrett is a blogger and communications manager at The Nature Conservancy
Video by The Nature Conservancy’s Senior Science Reporter Julia Kumari Drapkin, with production assistance from The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Photography Mark Godfrey
Trackback from your site.