An upcoming conference at UNM is focusing on the future of water and all that depends on it across the Americas.

The Transect of the Americas Symposium: Water & Climate Change Across the Americas: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Headwater Dependent Systems in Latin America and the American Southwest, will be hosted at UNM’s main campus May 2 and May 3.

This two-day workshop is the first of its kind. It is organized by a team of faculty and students led by Marygold Walsh-Dilley, UNM Coupled Natural and Human Systems Research grant lead and Department of Geography and Environmental Studies associate professor, and Jami Nelson-Nuñez, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science.

Marygold Walsh-Dilley

Experts from Latin America, Washington State University and Pennsylvania State University will join counterparts from across New Mexico at UNM to share the latest science about climate change in headwater dependent systems along the “transect of the Americas” – the mountain ranges that stretch from Alaska to the southern point of Chile. 

“I am thrilled to be hosting amazing scholars from Latin America who have hosted us in previous years,” Nelson-Nuñez said. “I have worked and traveled with them and learned so much in the last few years. It is, unfortunately, rare that U.S. scholars can reciprocate in hosting international colleagues given the costs and visa barriers so I am extraordinarily grateful to have the opportunity to host this amazing group.

On May 2, the scholars from Latin America will present in the morning, and the afternoon presentations on Thursday will focus on the Rio Grande and Rio Chama. The day will end with an opportunity to draw comparisons and synthesize across the hemisphere. The keynote presentation will also be given by UNM Geography and Environmental Studies Professor and Presidential Teaching Fellow Maria Lane.

Friday will be a unique “UNM in the Community” Mobile Symposium. Guests will jump on a UNM bus to visit different sites along the Middle Rio Grande to learn about and experience changing ecosystems first-hand. 

These field visits will include presentations by Department of Biology Assistant Professor Alex Webster at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, and by Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Anjali Mulchandani about her research on the relationship between air quality and atmospheric water harvesting. Finally, at the Bachechi Open Space, Water Resources Program Director Becca Bixby, Utton Transboundary Resources Center Director Adrian Oglesby and Utton Writer in Residence John Fleck will talk about the history and impact of the Rio Grande.

“Through this network we are learning how to combine insights from different disciplines to really understand how climate change is affecting our watersheds, from the headwaters to the municipalities and agriculture that depend on them,” Walsh-Dilley said. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand the lessons from other disciplines, but by building relationships within this network we keep getting better and better at integrating the insights from different fields. It’s hard, but exciting work."

Jami Nelson-Nunez

Building on the original National Science Foundation grant, UNM support has made this event possible. It is co-sponsored by the Latin American & Iberian Institute’s Richard E. Greenleaf Symposium Fund, the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Guadalupe Institute’s Western Hemisphere Center, NSF-IRES Pathways program and the Intermountain West Transformation Network.

With a focus on headwaters dependent systems, the goal of the Transect of Americas Symposium is to bring together scholars with interdisciplinary backgrounds to understand the dynamics of climate change and water in mountain areas. This symposium comes after similar workshops in four sites across the Americas: in Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. The Transect of the Americas network works to build resilience to climate change.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but registration is required for the May 3 Mobile Symposium. More information and a link to the registration form can be found on the website

Learn more about the in-depth water scarcity, policy and rights research underway now at UNM and across the Americas.