Main content area

The importance of and need for rapid hydrologic assessments in Latin America

Riveros‐Iregui, Diego A., Covino, Timothy P., González-Pinzón, Ricardo
Hydrological processes 2018 v.32 no.15 pp. 2441-2451
carbon dioxide, cost effectiveness, data collection, ecosystems, evaporation, hydrologic cycle, land use change, mountains, nutrient retention, rapid methods, research support, runoff, streams, temperate zones, water quality, water quantity, watershed hydrology, watersheds, Andes region, Colombia, Latin America
Long‐term observations are critical in hydrology to understand the dynamics of biological and physicochemical processes involved in and affected by the flux of water. Long‐term observations have been employed to provide basic understanding of the water cycle (e.g., infiltration, evaporation, run‐off generation, and groundwater–surface water interactions), but they are lacking in hydrologically relevant regions such as the Andes Mountains, including alpine watersheds. Although the call for long‐term data acquisition in Latin America has been made, the establishment of long‐term data collection centres remains logistically challenging. This ever‐growing scientific gap hinders our understanding of differences and similarities in hydrological processes of tropical and temperate regions. Furthermore, technological advances such as in situ optical sensors for water quantity and quality remain cost‐prohibitive for both short and long deployment at most existing research sites in Latin America, restricting researchers pursuing research funding or developing meaningful, intersite comparisons and syntheses. Here, we emphasize the importance of and need for rapid assessments (i.e., field campaigns conducted over a few days) for improved hypothesis development and mechanistic understanding of hydrological dynamics in Latin America. We report on rapid assessments conducted in the high‐elevation mountains (>3,000 m) of Colombia. Our results highlight rapidly changing dynamics in nutrient retention potential and dissolved CO₂ (pCO₂), as well as highly variable spatial distribution of water quality parameters (N, C, P, Cl) in areas with varying land use. We present an initial examination of the effects of land‐use change on stream nutrient dynamics in one of the most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems on Earth. We conclude that rapid assessments not only are necessary but also represent a cost‐effective way to develop clear, testable hypotheses to advance a hydrologic research agenda in Latin America and work towards long‐term hydrological knowledge and information for use by other scientists.