UO and Ohio State researchers work together on glaciers in Peru

January 8, 2015 - 9:26am

The UO's Mark Carey and Ohio State University's Bryan Mark met in Italy in 2003. They forged both strong friendships and combined their research in Peru under a federal grant. But now they are rivals of the moment.

"It's all in good fun," said Carey, an environmental historian in the UO's Robert D. Clark Honors College and a big fan of the Ducks. OSU's Mark, meanwhile, is defending his Buckeyes in Monday's first championship game under the new NCAA college football playoff system.

"I'm a proud Buckeye, so I naturally find this moment to be fun," Mark wrote in an email from Peru.

It was Carey who fired off an email to Mark after the Ducks stormed past Florida State in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State stunned No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. In the field, where he studies melting glaciers in Peru's Cordillera Blanca in the Andes Mountain Range, Mark had not heard the news.

"I wrote to him and said that after our decade of collaboration we need to become rivals," Carey said. "He said 'Bring it on' in his reply."

Their collaboration under a National Science Foundation grant has brought a unique perspective, merging social and physical science approaches to climate research. The Cordillera Blanca holds 25 percent of the world's tropical glaciers. Since 1970, the glaciers in the mountain range have shrunk by 30 percent.

Peru, overall, contains about 75 percent of all of the world's tropical glaciers. Mark, a geographer in OSU's Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, has focused on Peru's glacial volume and hydrological fluctuations since the 1990s.

The UO's Carey, since 2000, has studied water-management issues along the Santa River north of Lima, where 183,000 acres of irrigated desert along one canal off the river are home to rich agricultural land. Peru is the world's leading asparagus producer, much of it watered by Cordillera Blanca glacier runoff.

After meeting in 2003, Mark and Carey continued to get together at academic conferences. At a 2009 workshop in Peru, the two scientists worked with  Jeff Bury of the University of California at Santa Cruz and Ken Young of the University of Texas at Austin to map out a proposal. They would consolidate their work to encompass climate impacts of glacial melting on Peruvian people living in the entire Cordillera Blanca, or white corridor in English.

"We are looking at who manages the water, how they manage it and who's vulnerable," Carey said. "My component is looking at coastal irrigation projects."

High in the mountains, Mark last week gathered his family to get a photo of the group signing "O-H-I-O," which he promptly emailed to Carey.

"Sudden sports rivalry notwithstanding, I count Mark (Carey) among my most valued collaborators and friends," OSU's Bryan Mark said. "He is an excellent scholar, and he has been an inspiring part of our team that brings together physical and social scientists."

Carey returns the compliment.

"Bryan is one of the pioneers of a growing number of groups that are now studying the glaciers of the Andes," he said. "One thing that has so impressed me is his ability to bring students into the field, from all different levels and all different disciplines, and the way he understands Peru and gets everyone out into the field doing science.

“He's always good-natured and easy going, but he gets a lot of work done. At the end of the day, we have serious fun, too."

—By Jim Barlow, Public Affairs Communications