More than 21,000 feet above sea level, a dormant volcano called Tupungato rises on the border of Chile and Argentina. Amid volcanic rocks and what little snow doesn’t get blown away by intense winds sits a six-foot tall weather station recently installed by a National Geographic expedition. Though it’s a remote area with “certainly no vegetation,” says mountain climatologist Baker Perry, understanding the weather that happens at this height—and how it transforms over time amid climate change—is crucial for those who live below its peak.
Tupungato is what’s known as a water tower, a high mountain with snow and ice that slowly melts to provide critical water resources downstream. “As a result of climate change, glaciers are shrinking, their volume is decreasing, and in some cases, in many parts of the Andes and Himalayas, they’re disappearing completely,” Perry says. But experts still don’t fully understand what’s happening at these elevations, which is why its crucial to install weather stations at such heights.
These water towers are threatened by climate change across the planet, and Tupungato is one of the most vulnerable in the Andes mountains. Chile is in its tenth year of extreme drought, which experts say is a result of climate change. The weather station that now sits just below its summit is the highest weather station in the Southern and Western hemispheres. To install it, Perry and his team recently completed a 15-day expedition, a collaboration between National Geographic and the Chilean government (with support from Rolex).