The Cordillera Blanca (Spanish for "white range") is a mountain range in Peru that is part of the larger Andes range and extends for 200 kilometres (124 mi) between 8°08' and 9°58'S and 77°00' and 77°52'W, in a northwesterly direction. It includes several peaks over 6,000 metres (19,690 ft) high and 722 individual glaciers. The highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán, at 6,768 metres (22,205 ft) high, is located there.
Snowmelt from the Cordillera Blanca provides part of northern Peru with its year-round water supply, while 5% of Peru's power comes from a hydro-electrical plant located in the Santa River valley. The area of permanent ice cover shrank by about a third between the 1970s and 2006.
The Cordillera Blanca is the most extensive tropical ice-covered mountain range in the world and has the largest concentration of ice in Peru. It is part of the Cordillera Occidental (the westernmost part of the Peruvian Andes), and trends in a northwesterly direction for 200 km between 8°08' and 9°58'S of latitude and 77°00' and 77°52' W of longitude. It has five of the most spectacular peaks above 6,000 m in the Peruvian Andes; the highest peak, Huascarán, rises to an elevation of 6,768 m above sea level. The Cordillera Blanca also acts as a continental divide: the Santa River on the west drains into the Pacific Ocean, whereas the Marañón River on the east drains into the Atlantic Ocean.
Until the 1990s a total of 722 individual glaciers were recognized in this mountain range, covering an area of 723.4 km2. Most were on the western side of the range, where 530 glaciers covered an area of 507.5 km2, while on the eastern side 192 glaciers covered an area of 215.9 km2. Most of the glaciers, 91% of the total, were classified as mountain glaciers (they are generally short and have extremely steep slopes); the rest were classified as valley glaciers, except for one ice cap.
Like all Andean glaciers, the Cordillera Blanca has witnessed a major retreat of its glaciers during the 20th century due to global climate change. Studies have shown a retreat of over 15% since the 1970s. Based on analysis of satellite imagery, in 2003 there were 485 glaciers left, covering an area of 569.6 km2.
There are several 6,000 m peaks in the Cordillera Blanca with a 400 m topographic prominence, and several other peaks over 5,500 m.Huascarán Sur, the highest, has two commonly quoted heights: 6,746 m from the Peruvian National Geographic Institute (IGN) map and 6,768 m from the Austrian Alpine Club (OeAV) survey map.
Some of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Blanca are listed below.
Among the most important hot springs in the area are Monterrey and Chancos, which have been transformed into thermal bath facilities. They are 7 and 27 km respectively from the regional capital, Huaraz.
The dry season extends from May through September, June and July having the least rain and more stable weather. The data on the chart correspond to the village of Musho (elevation: 3084 m), located at the foot of Huascarán.
Flora and fauna in the range have adapted to the climate and elevational range of mountainous areas. Almost all of the Cordillera Blanca is protected by Huascarán National Park.
The main types of plant communities present in the area are the vegetation of inter-Andean valleys (xerophytic plants in the lower elevations and shrubs and grassland at the higher elevations) and high-altitude vegetation (Puna grasslands and patches of high Andean forest).
Plants in the range have adapted to the intense solar radiation, low temperatures, and water availability. Most plant species have pubescent leaves, an adaptation that protects the plants from water loss due to the intense solar radiation and low nighttime temperatures of the mountain climate.