Scientists examine glacier retreat and climate change in Ecuador

Humans have a stronger impact on planet earth than any other species before. What does that mean for the glacier? And for the climate? Andean Summit Adventure accompanies a group of young scientists who want to find the answers.

Expedition Anthropocene

At 22. February in Ecuador an interdisciplinary team of six German scientists from the Junge Akademie started an expedition to Ecuador. There they analyse the human’s impact on its environment. Glacier retreat, progressing climate change, decreasing biodiversity, acoustic ecological changes and microplastics in snow and ice are central topics of their investigation. Besides, the expedition is also a pilot project for modern scientific research.


Where does the expedition’s name come from? Anthropocene is a proposed name for the current geochronological era where the human is the crucial influencing factor on the earth. “Anthropos” is Greek for “human”. Climate warming and the resulting glacier retreat, plastic pollution, nuclear tests and massive exploitation of earth’s resources are examples that show the immense impact of mankind on the planet. The team from Junge Akademie examines some of them.


They mainly chose Ecuador as the location for their expedition because it offers different climatic zones that are geographically pretty near to each other. That allows a wide variety of research. Apparently, the country’s diversity is not only interesting for tourists but also for scientists.


When investigating the glacier and climate change in Ecuador the scientists follow in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt. He was a Prussian geophysicist and naturalist who came to Ecuador in 1802. There he explored the iconic peeks of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Tungurahua. The scientific findings of his journey contributed to botany and ecology that also lays the foundation for today’s understanding of nature.


Scientists take glacier samples
© Die Junge Akademie – Expedition Team


Support by local tour guide

As a local tour guide who cares about the conservation of nature Andean Summit Adventure supports the Expedition Anthropocene. That’s why we helped the group of scientists to plan their route through Ecuador and organize the expedition’s logistics. Moreover, we requested the permits for scientific research in the national parks and found local partner universities. Additionally, our tour guides Jaime Vargas, Romel Sandoval and Manuel Calapiña lead the scientists through the mountains. You can see our whole team on our website. We hope that thereby we can contribute to the scientific progress that eventually helps to protect the threatened climate and glaciers.


Climbing group discussion
© Die Junge Akademie – Expedition Team



The group of scientists arrived at Quito, the perfect spot for acclimatization. With an average altitude of approximately 2.800 m (9,200 ft) it is one of the highest capital cities in the world. Consequently, it is normal to experience headache and fatigue. You can find further information on altitude sickness in this article. Due to their route to high mountains like Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Antisana it is essential to take enough time for acclimatizing.


For further acclimatization and testing the gear the expedition continued to Pichincha. That is a volcano near Quito with two peaks. The higher one is called Wawa Pichincha and reaches up to 4.784 m (15,696 ft).


Examining the high mountains

Antisana, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo were the next destinations. At the glaciers from Antisana volcano (5.704 m (18,714 ft)) the musicologist Miriam Akkermann recorded the sounds of the environment. The biologist Christian Hof observed the animal world. Moreover, Ricarda Winkelmann and Robert Kretschmer took an ice core sample from the glacier. They will examine it for microplastics.


After that the group climbed the Cotopaxi in order to take another ice sample. The Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador (5.897 m (19,347 ft)). Its imperfect conical form with a beautiful icecap is impressive. Furthermore, the sandy surroundings riddled with some other volcanoes are fascinating. Unlike Chimborazo, Cotopaxi volcano is still active. You find detailed information about the Cotopaxi in this article.


At Chimborazo the scientists were able to directly observe the consequences of climate change: Since 2015 the glacier retreated over 150 m (492 ft) in height. This shocking development at the highest mountain of Ecuador (6.263 m (20,548 ft)) is the result of man-made global warming. Although Ecuador only contributes a relatively small part to global greenhouse gas emissions, it disproportionately suffers from climate change. Thus, the glaciers are endangered: Two of Ecuador’s seven glaciers could completely disappear in the next few years.


© Die Junge Akademie – Expedition Team


Climate Change

Apart from the global warming’s impact on the glaciers the scientists also want to know about how the local people perceive climate change. That’s why medic Martin-Immanuel Bittner surveys locals in order to study their personal assumptions and experiences regarding climate warming.

What’s next

After visiting some more locations like the jungle and Llanganates national park for further investigations the scientists from the Junge Akademie return to Germany with tons of information about climate change, the glaciers and other man-made impacts on the environment. Back in Germany the working process continues: The group analyses the collected data with advanced technologies. The Andean Summit Adventure team looks forward enthusiastically to seeing the results!

All Photos: © Die Junge Akademie – Expedition Team

One thought on “Scientists examine glacier retreat and climate change in Ecuador

  1. […] to Ecuador in order to research the human’s impact on its environment. Apart from studying the gla...

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