Between wind and mountain

A researcher in Bolivia in the world’s highest monitoring station.


Our journey led us through La Paz. The city is impressive in size and organization. Literally, it steps over mountains and makes a frontal assault of cliffs. The funiculars joining the different parts of the city like aerial metros help to be aware of its strange geography. This amazing city deserves at least one superlative. It is the city with the highest seat of the government of the world (note that I do not say capital).


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Let’s gain height.

But what interests us in this article is situated a few kilometers from the city. On the Mount Chacaltaya, you can find, at 5240 meters of altitude, the Chacaltaya observatory. There is the world’s highest monitoring station: the Chacaltaya GAW Station. It measures continuously in the air the temperature, the gases concentrations as well as the aerosols physical and chemical properties. The aim of the station is to provide data that help in the understanding of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the biosphere. In this place, the dangers of the global warming are blindingly obvious as the glacier present in the beginning of 1990 disappeared much quicker than expected by the scientists. Imagining this mountain covered by an 18000 -year-old glacier not so long ago and now seeing it so arid gave me an insight into the future soon to be witnessed in many other places on earth.

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I was extremely happy when Isabel Moreno Rivadeneira, one of the scientists working for the Chacaltaya GAW Station, in this amazing environment, accepted an interview. It was a unique occasion for me to learn more about the research here and the particularities of research work in Bolivia.


Isabel, you got your PhD in Earth Sciences from the University of Grenoble in France. Could you present your research thematic and how you became a researcher in the Chacaltaya GAW station?

Before becoming a researcher, I worked as a Process Engineer for some years in the Bolivian industry and agro-industry. I got bored of the routine of my engineer work and, most importantly, I felt that I could do something better with my creativity than to act as a (creative) wheel in the capitalist system.

My first research work was on glaciochemistry of the Andes and a little about Antarctica and climate. There was an opportunity open just after having finished my PhD. My French colleagues put me in contact with my current Bolivian colleagues, and even if I did intend to stay for a short period, now I am finishing my 5th year in this group. I got a permanent position as a research engineer and that helped me settle down. Currently, I work on the Chacaltaya GAW station as a research engineer. My research focuses on aerosol chemical composition and physical properties, gases and a little on climate in this region. In addition, I am currently contributing to the DECADE project (Data on climate and Extreme weather for the Central AnDEs) in collaboration with the University of Bern (in Switzerland) and the national service of hydrology and meteorology of Peru and Bolivia.

(The main target of the DECADE project is to promote the provision of climate information in the Central Andes in support of decision making and climate change adaptation strategies. In other words, the project aims to provide data analyzed and readable to the decision makers in order to help to make the good choice in term of regulation, law and actions to limit the effects of global warming and climatic changes.)

Why is the Chacaltaya station so important, what are its aims?

The Chacaltaya GAW station is an aerosol/gas/observatory working since 2012. It aims at providing information about natural and anthropogenic changes in the chemical composition and physical properties of the low atmosphere. We can observe the direct and indirect effect of the city up to 5300 m, but we also can observe regional transport of aerosols and gases, depending on the meteorological conditions, therefore we can work at both local and regional levels.

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The data follows international standards and it is freely released to the worldwide scientific community through the GAWSIS portal and we hope it can be used by a wide community.

To know more about Chacaltaya, not only about the research but mostly about people, you can find a great film called Samuel in the clouds. Here is the trailer:

How is it to be a researcher in Bolivia?

There are several advantages and disadvantages. Among the positive points, there is little concurrence in this ultra-specific field. As the scientific critical mass is relatively small, networking at the country and continent level is very easy and fruitful. For the same reason, it is not complicated to reach stakeholders. Moreover, there are unexpected possibilities to work with foreign researchers. Researchers from bigger universities abroad look for field work in countries like Bolivia, and Bolivian researchers can have a very fruitful collaboration with them. Win-win opportunities are not rare.

Concerning the disadvantages, one of them is the little public funding for research. The Bolivian society and the public universities are very bureaucratic. This is time-consuming so less time is left for proper work of investigation. The Bolivian society is very conservative and this permeates to academia. Women have to deal with macho attitudes and besides fighting for research; they need to actively fight for their rights. Another point that is not unique of Bolivia and is rather a worldwide problem is the fact that researchers do not communicate enough to the broad audience.

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And to end this interview, what advice would you give to students and researchers interested in following a path similar to yours?

– Follow your dreams without fear and build a vision on what you wish to do with your life and you will eventually reach it.

– Coming from a country where universities do not offer specific specialty programs, nothing better than studying abroad.

– Becoming part of/building a competent team (at least 2-3 people but not bigger than 7) is necessary to succeed.  As a researcher, I do not advise people to work alone; a healthy network makes things easier and much more fun.

Huge thanks to Isabel Moreno Rivadeneira.

If you are specialized in the field, you can find below some scientific references concerning the research work from Isabel.

CCN production by new particle formation in the free troposphere. Clémence Rose, Karine Sellegri, Isabel Moreno, Fernando Velarde, Michel Ramonet, Kay Weinhold, Radovan Krejci, Marcos Andrade, Alfred Wiedensohler, Patrick Ginot and Paolo Laj

Frequent nucleation events at the high altitude station of Chacaltaya (5240 m a.s.l.), Bolivia. Rose, K. Sellegri, F. Velarde, I. Moreno, M. Ramonet, K. Weinhold, R. Krejci, Patrick Ginot, M. Andrade, A. Wiedensohler ,P.Laj

Environmental records from temperate glacier ice on Nevado Coropuna saddle, southern Peru Herreros, I. Moreno, J.-D. Taupin, P. Ginot, N. Patris, M. De Angelis, M.-P. Ledru, F. Delachaux and U. Schotterer


10 thoughts on “Between wind and mountain

  1. Нello it’s mе, I am also visiting this web site regularly, this webѕite is really good and the
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  2. Wow I am so glad I found your blog today! I am a physics student but my research work is on climate change. I’m always on the lookout for interesting travel blogs and science blogs but what an original idea to combine the two! Also, I love the fact that you present researchers here, they are the unsung heroes of the planet 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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