A Volcano in Chile Is Now Equipped With a Weather Station

Same team installed world's highest weather station on Mount Everest.

Baker Perry, right, and another expedition teammate install the weather station in Chile.
Baker Perry, right, and another expedition teammate install the weather station in Chile.

Armando Vega / National Geographic

In only about two hours, researchers installed a rugged computer near the summit of Tupungato Volcano in Central Chile. The equipment is the heart of a newly installed weather station — the highest in the Southern and Western hemispheres.

It’s already collecting and transmitting meteorological data that will help scientists and government leaders in Chile with water management in record-breaking drought conditions.

The weather station was installed at 21,341 feet above sea level. The expedition was funded by National Geographic and Rolex in partnership with the government of Chile.

“Central Chile is in the midst of a megadrought since 2010 which has resulted in reduced snowfall in an already vulnerable water tower,” Baker Perry, National Geographic Explorer, professor at Appalachian State University and expedition co-lead, tells Treehugger.

Perry adds: “Future projections of water availability are even more concerning when ongoing glacier retreat and the disappearance of many glaciers are considered. We hope to learn more about the basic processes governing glacier behavior in the Rio Maipo water tower which will improve future projections of climate and water resource availability.”

Chile’s capital city of Santiago has a population of more than 6 million people. For their water supply, they rely on the Southern Andes water tower, which includes Tupungato, the highest mountain of the Maipo basin.

The new weather station is similar to the South Col and Balcony weather stations the team installed in 2019 on Mount Everest. Sitting at 27,600 feet above sea level, the Balcony weather station is the highest ever installed.

Installing the Weather Station

Perry and Gino Casassa, expedition team members, descend Tupungato Volcano
Perry and Gino Casassa, expedition team members, descend Tupungato Volcano. Armando Vega / National Geographic

“We worked closely with engineers at Campbell Scientific to design a station that was light yet strong enough to withstand winds greater than 200 mph. There are redundant wind and temperature sensors in case of damage,” Perry says. “The area around the station just below the summit is a mix of volcanic rocks and snow. Most snow that falls is quickly blown away by the strong winds and there is not as much snow as would be expected given the elevation and low temperatures.”

It took about two hours to install the station. It only required a handful of tools including a drill to set bolts in large, solid rocks and 3.2-foot steel stakes in loose volcanic material and wrenches and screwdrivers to assemble all the equipment.

“The weather station consists of a rugged computer (datalogger) that controls the sensors and records data,” Perry says. “It is fully automated and sends data via satellite to a server operated by the Chilean government. All weather stations need maintenance, ideally at least once a year.”

The station is already providing useful information, Perry says, and has already recorded a wind gust of 112 mph. The longer it operates, the more valuable the data will be.

“The installation was a true team effort. Our Chilean counterparts were exceptional!” he adds. “Also quite challenging to pull off this expedition in the midst of a pandemic. The expedition also pushed the limits of scientific discovery and exploration to the highest reaches of the planet.”