The MIT-Patagonia team voyaged to the Aysen region of Chile – in the heart of Patagonia during January 2009. The five masters of engineering students [who are all women – take notice guys] — Kristen Burrall, Laura Mar, Flavia Tauro, Elisabetta Natale and Gianna Leandro, and their advisor, Wendy Pabich, Ph.D., are investigating a series of questions related to five proposed hydro-electric dams on the Baker and Pasqua Rivers.
The proposed project would dam Chile’s most voluminous river – the Baker and one of its most pristine – the Pasqua, and construct 1,400 miles of transmission lines through seven national parks to bring the power north to Santiago to satisfy copper industry electricity demand.
The project is widely controversial, not only for its ecological implications, but for the fact that project benefits would accrue largely to people and entities far from Patagonia – notably Endesa Spain.
The team is analyzing water quality impacts and the carbon budget of the project, assessing the risks to the proposed dam and downstream populations from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) – geologic scale flooding events, four of which have occurred in the Baker basin during the past year – and evaluating the potential to provide a similar amount of power by optimizing operation of existing hydro-dams much closer to Santiago.
During January, the group met with leaders from the federal, regional and local governments, citizens, NGOs and other stakeholders to gather data about the project and the hydrology of the Baker basin, and to better understand the issues and concerns surrounding the proposal.
Even better, to enhance their understanding of the watershed, they camped and hiked their way through this stunning region of the world, trekking in to the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and rafting the Colonia and Baker Rivers from their source at the ice to the ocean at Tortel with their great friends at Patagonia Adventure Expeditions (PAEX).
The group was thrilled to be fueled by PROBAR® along the way!
– Written and submitted by Wendy J. Pabich, Ph.D. who is a friend of PROBAR®