Binational Observatory of Lake Titicaca (OBLT)

General topics

Lake Titicaca is the largest South American freshwater lake (8.300 km2, 170 km x 60 km) and the highest of the World Great Lakes (3.810 m s.n.m.). Located on the Altiplano between the two Andes Cordilleras, transboundary between Peru and Bolivia, it is both a tropical (16 º S, 69 º W) and a mountain lake, which gives it unique features worldwide. This endorheic lake contributes to the regional microclimate. It is a 'hotspot' of biodiversity and endemism, but some species are endangered there. Still intact four decades ago, today, following the mining, industrial and urban contamination, shallow areas are polluted and eutrophic, such as the estuaries of the major rivers Ramis and Suchez as well as the bays of Puno, Copacabana, and in particular Cohana within Minor Lake, as the outlet of El Alto city (1.2 million inhabitants) founded 15 years ago. Paradoxically, Lake Titicaca has never been continuously monitored on the long-term.

In order to monitor the water quality, the hydrological and hydro-biological resources, as well as to predict or at least anticipate extreme events induced by climate changes and anthropogenic pressures – like micro-phytoplankton blooms (proliferation) due to eutrophication and biodiversity losses due to contamination – but also check the improvements expected following the initiation of future wastewater treatment plants, the Binational Observatory of Lake Titicaca (OBLT) is gradually being implemented since 2015, driven by Xavier Lazzaro (IRD/BOREA). The OBLT results from the collaboration between scientific and technical institutions in Bolivia (UMSA, VRHR/MMAyA, IPD PACU/MDRyT, UOB, SENAMHI-BO) and Peru (IMARPE, PELT, SENAMHI-PE) with the French Cooperation (IRD Representation in Bolivia with UMR BOREA, GET, LTHE and ISTERRE). It works thanks to interactions between different modules of measurements (dedicated research programs, binational expeditions, data/satellite images, continuous automated monitoring), database storage, analysis and visualization (information system, spatial data infrastructure) and actions (dialogue, governance) coordinated between scientists, policy makers and the civil society.

OBLT objectives

  • Develop research on the ecological and biogeochemical functioning of Lake Titicaca, in relation to global changes
  • Implement an automated-routine monitoring to accompany the environmental evolution and verify the effectiveness of the measures taken
  • Produce quality databases, updated and validated for the research of scientists, the taking of political decisions, to the service of the civil society (information, education, improvement of living conditions)
  • Identify the sources and sites of contamination, their effects on water quality, water balances, hydro-biological resources and human activities
  • Anticipate extreme events and control the eutrophication-induced climate and anthropogenic changes
  • Design and test bioremediation approaches using the ecological engineering
  • Become a model of observation, management and governance for transboundary lake 
Research axis

Lake Titicaca is a fieldwork site where multidisciplinary research are developed concerning:

  • Knowledge of the ecological, biogeochemical, limnology and photobiological functioning: elements for the management and restoration of tropical mountain aquatic ecosystem
  • Trophic interactions between communities of fish, plankton, macrophytes, periphyton and benthos: combining in situ observations, mesocosm experiments, and modeling
  • Quantification of global changes (climate and anthropogenic) and their impacts on the evolution of water quality, water and hydro-biological resources
  • Quantification of contamination, eutrophication, their impacts and controls
  • Development of monitoring and surveillance programs for the production of quality scientific databases, updated and validated, and the establishment of early warning for forecasting/anticipation of extreme undesirable events
  • Implementation of a network of high-frequency long-term automated continuous observations: using buoys equipped with sensors combining in situ measurements of physical and biogeochemical data, plus hydrometeorological data on reference stations
  • In parallel, evaluation of spatial, seasonal, and inter-annual dynamics from biannual expeditions measurements across the whole lake to establish an ecological zoning of ecosystem uses and services
  • Use of data/satellite imagery for the spatial-temporal extrapolation of in situ data to the entire Lake: e.g. chlorophyll-a concentration of phytoplankton, transparency/attenuation of solar UV-PAR radiation in the water column, areal extension and biomass of aquatic macrophytes
  • Development of alternative approaches based on ecological engineering (e.g. phytoremediation and biomanipulation) to manage and restore degraded environments
  • Development of a digital platform combining information systems and spatial data infrastructure to capitalize databases, analyze, cross environmental and socio-economic information, and visualize spatial and historical evolutions
  • To become an international reference for monitoring, management and governance of transboundary lake ecosystems


Liens :

IRD research and work of IRD in Bolivia performed with Bolivian and Peruvian partners on Lake Titicaca

Links to institutions and researchers  

Texto de la pagina web - versión española

Documento completo -  versión española

SPECIAL MENTION: We deeply thank all the Catari family of Huatajata, especially Don Ramón, Don Máx, Erik and Ruben, to share their experiences, infrastructures, and friendship with us. Without them, for nearly four decades, we would not have lived this scientific adventure on Lake Titicaca. XL

MENCIÓN ESPECIAL: ¡Agradecemos profundamente a toda la familia Catari de Huatajata, en especial a Don Ramón, Don Máx, Erik y Ruben, para compartir sus experiencias, sus infraestructuras y su amistad con nosotros. Sin ellos, durante casi cuatro décadas, no hubiéramos podido vivir esta aventura científica en el Lago Titicaca. XL

Galerie vidéos

Testimony on climate change in the binational watershed of Lake Titicaca » (12 min in Spanish), realized by Xavier Lazzaro & Simón Avilés, for the COP20 in Lima, December 2014.
Xavier Lazzaro – Don Ramon Catari, about Lake Titicaca » (9 min16, original version French – Spanish, French subtitles). Film presenting the work of IRD researchers in Bolivia, directed by Antoine Deprez Segobia, trainee, supervised by IRD Audiovisual Service, November 2015. A long history of friendship but also science binds the two men working for more than 3 decades on Lake Titicaca.
Tutorial of the Spatial Data Infrastructure, the GeoVisor IIGEO/UMSA « Contamination from El Alto to Lake Titicaca » (17 min in Spanish), directed by Javier Nuñez & Xavier Villaba Lazzaro, co-production IIGEO/UMSA-IRD/DSI, produced by Fermin Cruz (CONTRAPLANO), March 2016.


Lac Titicaca et Cordilière Royale. photo Xavier Lazzaro