EGU Topical Conference Series
4th Alexander von Humboldt International Conference
The Andes: Challenge for Geosciences
Santiago de Chile, Chile, 24 – 28 November 2008

Aims & Scope

It is the aim of this interdisciplinary and international EGU Humboldt Conference to bring researchers from diverse specializations together and thus catalyze more comprehensive interdisciplinary research towards a better understanding of the complexity of the Andes system.

Scientists from all geosciences fields carrying out research related to the Andes are invited to contribute to this interdisciplinary conference.

The Andes, one of the major mountain ranges on Earth, constitute a unique Geosciences laboratory hosting natural phenomena and processes on virtually all geosciences sub-disciplines (Solid-earth geophysics, tectonics, volcanology, economic geology, geomorphology, soil sciences, meteorology/climatology, hydrology, glaciology and geobotany). Moreover, there are not only many scientific issues specific to each sub-discipline, but also several cross-cutting themes of tremendous scientific interest and practical relevance, such as the climate-geomorphology interactions over different timescales.

Extending from the northern tropics of Venezuela (about 10°N) all the way to Tierra del Fuego (about 53°S), with heights ranging over 5000 m at tropical/subtropical latitudes, the Andes provide a formidable barrier for the tropospheric flow. The Andes not only act as a "climatic wall", with dry conditions to the west and moist conditions to the east at tropical/subtropical latitudes (the pattern reverts in midlatitudes), but they also foster tropical-extratropical interactions. Furthermore, the Andes comprise all major climate and thus vegetation zones, from tropical to ice climates to absolute desert, both over their north-south extent as well as in the vertical direction.

Due to their origin related to an active convergent-plate margin that causes uplifting and volcanism, the Andes show extreme complexity, with strong gradients in geology and morphological structure. The Andean orogeny involves tectonic and geodynamic processes that generate intense deformation and faulting, active subduction zone seismicity, magmatism and associated ore deposits.

Humans depend on the Andes through renewable (e.g. water) and non-renewable (e.g. minerals) resources that support from local communities to national economies. In particular, water resources are under immense pressure from increasing population growth, and they could be severely diminished in the near future in the context of global warming. Dramatic retreats of glaciers are already observed in many Andean areas.

Compared to other major mountain ranges, the Andes are not well studied and their geophysical characteristics poorly documented and understood. Although research has been carried out by various teams, from South America, Europe, and North America, on diverse topics and in different areas, an overall understanding of the Andes as a complex system is still lacking.

This lack assumes utmost importance given the fact that the Andes and surrounding low-lands are prone to major natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, flooding and flash-floods, whose prediction and mitigation strategies require a comprehensive understanding of the entire system. A better assessment of the risks that result from a variety of processes is highly relevant for a more sustainable management of the resources in the Andes.