“Cresta Alta” Andean Climate Change Documentary Film Expedition Blog

Climate change is accelerating glacier recession in the Andes. The glaciers east of Santiago, Chile, have lost 30% of their mass since 1955. Climate change has also increased the potential for glacial lake outburst floods that are catastrophic in nature and devastating to livelihoods and infrastructure down valley. Lake Palcacocha is located in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes and is situated above the city of Hauraz. It is the source for drinking water for the city and for regional agriculture and livestock. In the Cordillera Blanca, glacier recession has also exposed the Chicama geological formation which is comprised of heavy metals that are now leaching into regional streams and rivers. With support from USAID, The Mountain Institute has initiated a pilot bio-remediation program that aims to clean the water with artificial wetlands.

In late March, I met Norwegian professor of climate change and glaciology, Dr. Sebastian Mernild, in Santiago, Chile. He was traveling to the Olivares Basin in the high Andes East of Santiago on his annual glaciological field research expedition and invited me to join him. I met Dr. Mernild in Alaska a few years ago to interview him regarding his research in Greenland. He is now the director of the Nansen Center in Bergen, Norway. My undergraduate degree focused on regional development of geography and I have been filming climate change research with glaciologists in Alaska and Iceland for a number of years.

With the opportunity to join Dr. Mernild in Chile, I reached out to The Mountain Institute, as I was aware of their ‘Securing Mountain Water and Livelihoods’ program in Peru’s Ancash region, home of the Cordillera Blanca. My aim was to film an Andean regional climate change documentary in Chile and Peru. I was able to garner the generous support of LATAM Airlines, LC Peru Airlines, Sony, Rode Microphones, Seagate, Sachtler, ManfrottoHuascarán National Park and the San Sebastian Hotel Boutique in Hauraz, Peru which enabled my project to become reality.

-Todd Anders Johnson, Risan Media

I flew to Santiago, Chile with LATAM Airlines and met with Dr. Sebastian Mernild and his research team.

Dr. Sebastian Mernild

On the morning of our expedition, the weather was clear and we loaded our gear and took two helicopter flights from Santiago to the glacier basecamp with our team. The Gamma glacier is situated at 11,200 ft. in the Olivares Basin of the high Andes, east of Santiago.

Todd Anders Johnson

We unloaded research gear and set up basecamp downstream from the glacier.

Gamma Glacier, Olivares Basin, Andes mountains, Chile.

Todd Anders Johnson, aerial filming.

Dr. Sebastian Mernild conducting glacier meltwater calculations on the Gamma river.

Dr. Sebastian Mernild, conducting mass balance research on the Gamma glacier.

Upper Gamma glacier mass balance data collection.

Offloading media and charging batteries once back to Santiago from the glacier.

Once we returned to Santiago, I flew to Lima, Peru with LATAM Airlines and took a LC Peru flight from Lima to Hauraz, home of the Cordillera Blanca. I stayed at the San Sebastian Hotel Boutique in Hauraz and met with The Mountain Institute team. I filmed throughout Hauraz, in the mountains above the city and in the Huascarán National Park, where we hiked to Lake Palcacocha in the Cordillera Blanca.

Hauraz, Peru

San Sebastian Hotel Boutique, Huaraz, Peru.

Interview with Rachel Chisolm, The Mountain Institute, Peruvian glacial lake outburst flood research.

The Mountain Institute offices in Hauraz, Peru.

Antonio Marceliano, The Mountain Institute, Hauraz, Peru. Glacial lake outburst flood early warning systems.

Jesus Gómez López– Director of Huascarán National Park.

Anaïs Zimmer with The Mountain Institute’s bio-remediation project in Hauraz, Peru.

The Mountain Institute and USAID have a pilot bio-remediation project located in the mountains outside Hauraz with the intent to clean the polluted water with artificial wetlands and if successful, to replicate the project regionally. The acidification of the rivers is occurring as a result of climate change-induced glacier recession that is exposing the Chicama geological formation that is comprised of naturally occurring heavy metals in the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.

Todd Anders Johnson, aerial filming above Hauraz, Peru.

In route to the entrance to Huascarán National Park.

Huascarán National Park, Peru.

The Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Glacier recession has increased metal and mineral acidification of the local rivers which is impacting the quality of life for the local community as well as livestock and agriculture.

Isabel Menéndez, The Mountain Institute, Peruvian climate change-induced river acidification research

Hiking to Lake Palcacocha.

Lake Palcacocha is located in the Cordillera Blanca above Hauraz, Peru. Glacial outburst flood research is ongoing as the potential for GLOFs has increased in recent decades with climate change. 

Ricardo Durand, Peru’s National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems

Rachel Chisolm, The Mountain Institute, Peruvian glacial lake outburst flood research.

Todd Anders Johnson aerial filming at Lake Palcacocha in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru



Post production

Post production




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