Lake Titicaca Bolivia: Climate Context

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 5th Jan 2023

This region is in the dry inter-Andean valleys of Bolivia (Ribera et al., 2006) and covers the municipalities of Batallas, Ancoraimes and Carabuco. These municipalities are located in the northern area of the Bolivian Altiplano. The northern Bolivian Altiplano is an 800km long and 200km wide flat region in the Andean highlands and is highly sensitive to hydrologic changes caused by glacier withdrawal. In general terms, the North Altiplano Basin is divided into 3 altitudinal ecological zones: the region of the Andean mountain range (4,300 to 6,500m above sea level), the foot of the hill (4,300 to 4,000m above sea level) and the flat land (3,850 to 4,000m above sea level). Almost 75% of the North Altiplano Basin is between 3,600 and 4,300m above sea level.

Although the climatic conditions in this region are not favorable for the production of many crops, 65% of the economically active population is dedicated to agriculture. Potatoes and quinoa are the main crops produced under dry conditions in this region. Drought and low temperatures combined with low soil fertility and a lack of access to external productive factors to intensify the production have resulted in very low productivity levels in the Lake Titicaca region.

Climate in the Lake Titicaca Region

The climate of this region is influenced by its altitude. Given the altitude and the geographic location, this region faces significant climatic variations: it receives high sun radiation during the day (reaching 533cal/cm2/day) and it has low temperatures during the night (Montes de Oca, 1989). The maximum average temperature in the northern Altiplano ranges from 15 to 17 °C during the day and a minimum average temperature of 0.5 °C in summer and -10 °C in winter during the night. The average temperature in the region varies between 7 and 8 °C. Moreover, the average velocity of wind in the region is 3m/s with a predominant direction coming from west-southwest.

The climatic conditions of the region are also determined by low levels of humidity. Average precipitation in the Altiplano is 550mm/year. Almost 72% of the rainfall occurs from November to February. The cold weather, high daily temperature variation and low humidity levels of the highlands limit the growth rate and density of vegetation in this region, resulting in low levels of organic matter in the soil and consequently in poor soil fertility.

Moreover, the Lake Titicaca Basin has a thermo-regulator effect on the region. The level of humidity in the area surrounding the lake is higher due to the evaporation process of the water reaching an average precipitation of 600mm/year that favors the climatic conditions of the area it influences (UNDP, 1997).

Finally, the region of the Lake Titicaca is greatly influenced by the El Niño event, also known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that causes serious droughts in the area. This event does not have a fixed cycle and is currently being researched, however it is estimated that its frequency of occurrence is around 4 years (Caviedes, 2001). The El Niño event is part of the rainfall pattern of the northern Bolivian Altiplano.

Ecosystem Diagnosis

The objective of the ecosystem diagnosis is to assess the state of conservation of the ecosystem in the study region and to identify (using bio-indicators) changes in the ecosystem due to climate change and subsequently assess the potential implications on food security and human health. The area selected for the ecosystem diagnosis in the Lake Titicaca region is the Caldera zone in the municipality of Ambana, the municipality of Combaya and the municipality of Batallas. The study of the fauna and flora in this area was carried out in coordination with the Bolivian Collection of Fauna (CBF) and the National Herbarium of Bolivia in La Paz. The most relevant findings of the study are described in this section.

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