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Images: Tracking a Trail of Carbon

Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes Mountains, straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia.

(Google Earth; Image Landsat; Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO)
Lake Titicaca is 120 miles long, 50 miles wide and has average depth of 500 feet. It sits on the Altiplano (“high plain” in Spanish), a plateau poised between the eastern and western cordilleras of the central Andes. Despite its high altitude and cool temperatures, the Titicaca basin is actually a tropical site, and it catches annual rainfall from summer monsoons. Thus, it offers clues to past rainfall and climate patterns. (Google Earth; Image Landsat; Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO; Data LDEO-Columbia, NSF, NOAA)
Surrounded by mountains, the Lake Titicaca basin catches the precipitation from the monsoon. Five major rivers sweep material from the basin into the lake, and it accumulates over time on the lake bottom. Scientists analyze sediments cored from the lake bottom to investigate past climate conditions. MIT-WHOI graduate student Kyrstin Fornace analyzes leaf wax preserved in the sediments to reconstruct how carbon has cycled over time through the planetary system from air to plants to land and eventually to the lake. (Kyrstin Fornace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/NOAA ETOPO1 global relief data)
The Lake Titicaca basin has been home to ancient civilizations, including the Tiwanaku and Incan empires, as well as the Uros, who have lived for centuries on a network of manmade floating islands constructed out of totora reeds. Above are distinctive reed boats that the Uros use to travel between islands. (Kyrstin Fornace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
A section of the western shore of Lake Titicaca near Puno, Peru. The rugged vegetation surrounding the lake includes grasses and shrubs that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the high-altitude basin. (Kyrstin Fornace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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