October 25th, 2017

Paramo, Jalca and Puna are the three bioregions which include high Andean wetlands. *
Jalca is located in the mountains of northern Peru, Paramos in the north of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica.

Puna is the only bioregion found on the high plateau of Bolivian Andes. The region lies at an elevation of 3500–5000 m above sea level. The ecosystem is characterized by an intense cold, aridity and significant daily temperature fluctuations. Due to its latitude the region is also subject to drastic seasonal climatic changes. Vegetation is made up of small grasslands and disperse dwarf shrubs and trees. Many of the rivers flowing towards the puna often have patches of vegetation in their lower reaches. This structure is not characteristic for these altitudes.

The dominant vegetation is highly variable, and a great variety oh high Andean wetlands exist. There are freshwater lakes of glacial, volcanic and tectonic origin, peat bogs and bofedales formed by saturation of soils or by groundwater, salt pans and brackish lagoons, and different kind of reed beds.

Human population density in puna is much higher than in paramo, and some big cities such as La Paz in Bolivia are built over the puna. The economy of this region is considered one of the poorest in the world. Approximately 75% of the roughly 6 million individuals who live here are at the poverty line. Because a large area of the Altiplano has an arid climate and barren soil, agriculture is difficult to produce.

Felix, in below video, is a typical shepherd in El Altiplano, and much of his life seems similar with his ancestors' from centuries ago. Water and the lack of it is shaping life in this part of the world, where humans and nature are so intricate connected.

The sources of water range from high altitude lakes (open water) to varieties of wetlands: freshwater lakes, salt pans, saline and brackish lagoons, peat bogs and bofedales.

High Andean wetlands monitoring were part of the study performed by TERRASIGNA for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The wetlands change analysis and the environmental dynamics offer a comprehensive image when paired with other natural impacting elements. Snow cover extent and lake area dynamics were the two variables combined with the wetlands analysis in order to assess the region evolution.

IDB’s involvement in Bolivia is a long history of infrastructure development support. Our study was underpinned on different requirements and constraints:

  • impact analysis for future dams’ contraction/enlargement projects for water and irrigation;
  • three specific moments in time, defined by beneficiary - 2003, 2009, 2016;
  • water and wetlands extent variety (i.e. high resolution imagery needed).

The analysed area covered 31 high altitude lakes and 15 rivers basins. The snow cover extent (SCE) dynamics were assessed for 2003-2016 period, and the lake areas dynamics for 2000-2016.






The upper river basins experienced moderate and significant decrease rate for SCE (up to 11%) and lakes areas changes indicated moderate and minor increase (up to 7%).
Paired with the information revealed for the wetlands (dynamics on negative slope), decrease of the precipitations (23% for the period analysed) and the general tendency of melting glaciers, the big picture exposes the scale and the speed of changes.

The most affected areas are situated at altitudes below 4000 m, where people like Felix live.
The service implementation capitalised Earth Observation technologies and datasets:

  • satellite imagery - various spatial and temporal resolutions;
  • meteorological and climate data (precipitations and temperature, discharge data for rivers, vegetation indices, evapotranspiration);
  • digital elevation models (elevation, slope, aspect, drainage patterns, catchment limits);
  • eco-regions and protected areas;
  • hydrographic network;
  • administrative limits & demographics.

Felix testimony was captured during the project in-situ deployment.

*Source WWF study
The material is part of the Bolivian study. See also A la vida - Bahia de Cohana case study , Lake Titicaca - water quality,  and Al agua-High Andean Wetlands