August 19th, 2017

Ten thousands of Titicaca water frogs were discovered dead in a tributary river in the the south of Peru, in late October 2016.
In 2015, similar event occured on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, and scientists believed that the most likely cause is the pollution.

The Titicaca water frog is an endangered species that is found only in the freshwater lake shared by Peru and Bolivia and its affluents. This entirely aquatic frog has excessive amounts of skin, used to breathe in the cold water in which it lives. They spend their entire life in oxygen-rich water, stay near the bottom, and do not surface to breathe if the water is well-oxygenated.

You can see the species has adapted an amazing equilibrium with this naturally harsh environment, says Arturo Muñoz, amphibian conservation biologist.*
But that equilibrium is failing now. The species can’t adapt quickly enough to the domestic, industrial and agricultural pollution that is throwing this equilibrium way off balance.

In 2015, the combination of an algal bloom caused by a build-up of nutrients and the release of hydrogen sulfide at the bottom of the lake as the result of high winds and heavy rains effectively cut off oxygen to the aquatic frogs.
This wiped out 80 percent of the population in Lago Menor, the small side of Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side.*






Conservation projects for the Titicaca water frog have been initiated, including studies to find the reason for the mass deaths. These are enduring and passionate efforts deployed by scientists who care about the world we live in. Many times, the best of conservation work is in innovation - working in the face of insurmontable odds, and hoping for the best to happen.

But innovation is also possible in the way we approach conservation, environmental monitoring and protection, in general.
Today’s technologies play a vital role in these scientific endeavors, and earth observation technologies support these efforts with significant contribution.

Lake Titicaca water quality assessment is part of the project commissioned to TERRASIGNA by the European Space Agency in 2015.
This service is one of the case studies addressed in Bolivia, and component of the impact analysis performed for the Inter-American Development Bank‘s investments in South America.

The algal bloom of 2015 was one of the special events captured in this assessment, but the service covered wider subjects:

  • analysis focused on three levels of details: Lake Titicaca, river mouth for main tributaries and Lago Menor;
  • two variables addressed: chlorophyll and turbidity covering both Lake Titicaca and Lago Menor;
  • trend analysis and correlation with meteorological parameters (river discharge rates, bathymetry, meteorological conditions);
  • identification and mapping of extreme events - algal bloom & high suspended particulate matter concentrations.





The analysis was performed for the period 2003 - 2016, but statistics were also computed for different intervals: monthly, seasonal, annual. Lake Titicaca - the chlorophyll and turbidity variables highlighted the variations for the studied time frame, in different dynamics, based on correlations with other meteorological parameters.
Lago Menor - the analysis reported the factors impacting the environmental changes:

  • urban development;
  • expanding agriculture;
  • receding glaciers;
  • polluted waters from tributaries.

Earth Observation technologies proved the capability and the efficiency of high quality geo-information services.
Their impact in many economic sectors can drive positive changes for our tomorrows.

The algae uses up oxygen, and if you don’t have oxygen there, you don’t have a healthy ecosystem.*
In myth, lake Titicaca is the birthplace of humanity, and the people who live on its shores depend on it for their livelihoods.

Header image - events captured in March 2015 - algal bloom, chlorphyll concentration and suspended particulate matter
Bottom image - Rio Ramis turbidity and discharge analysis 2008-2016

This is the second material in a serie that will present services performed in South America. 
See also A la vida - Bahia de Cohana case study and High Andean Wetlands

* Source GlobalWideLife