A team of international scientists has, for the first time, collected crucial climate and biodiversity information from near the Everest summit that will tell us how climate change is impacting the world’s highest peak and the entire watershed below, and will help examine long-term implications for the southwest monsoon.
The team also set up the highest weather station in the world at about 8,430 metres above sea level near the Everest summit last month. This will provide weather information from Everest in real-time. Ice cores (sample from a glacier) from the mountain, which will be analysed over the next six months, will reveal the trajectory of climate change impacts, the scientists said, adding that the analysis could help influence global decision-making on dealing with the climate crisis in the coming years.
This two-month expedition between April and June, supported by National Geographic and Rolex, is called Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions.
The multidisciplinary team of scientists would have had to queue up at the back of several climbers to reach the summit. So its members decided to set up the weather station near the summit and not at the summit, factoring in the risk of life. Climate scientist Tom Matthews described the experience as “frustrating” at the National Geographic Explorers Festival on Thursday. “We ran into the back of queue…which both was frustrating if you have queued up for anything you would know. On top of that, we had the knowledge that queuing up is very unsafe for everyone.”
Paul Mayewski, distinguished professor at the School of Earth and Climate Sciences, University of Maine, and lead scientist on the expedition, told HT that the team has already got some initial results from their expedition, with locals giving them details of how dramatically climate change has impacted the mountain. Analysis of the samples will give the first-ever climate information to the world from any region above 6,500 metres above sea level, he added.
“Glaciers around Everest have become smaller in a very short period of time. If you look at the climate records you can see that in the last 20 years there has been about a one degree Celsius rise in temperature depending on the elevation,” Mayewski said.
“It’s one thing to say how climate change is impacting us based on models, it’s another thing to go up there and measure things. In the next few months we will start analysing the samples, we will look at what sort of pollutants are being seen in these glaciers, including lead and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They are amazing reservoirs of everything that is in the atmosphere. Glaciers don’t lie.”
The analysis from this expedition will also reveal how monsoon patterns will change in India. Indian scientists have indicated that monsoon is weakening over the years, but this data may give more clues to what time of the year moisture comes in compared to earlier.
“When the Arctic Sea ice started to decline in early 2010 onwards, within those five years the eastern Arctic warmed in temperature annually by about five degrees Celsius. It is immense. It tells you something very different is happening. That has a lot to do with where the jet stream [narrow bands of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere] is throughout the year. The jet stream will be a big part of the story in this expedition. Strength and location of the jet stream is critical in understanding the timing of the monsoon. Where do you go to measure the jet stream? You got to be really high up and the highest you can go is the Everest,” Mayewski said.
The team says ice cores are like buried weather stations that allow us to go back thousands of years and make plausible projections of how this area will change in years to come.
Tracie Seimon, director, Molecular Laboratory, Wildlife Conservation Society, who is also in the team, discovered a new elevation record for a centipede which is 5,500 metres. She found spiders, arthropods, mammals and saw snow leopard tracks near the summit.
They results from the expedition are likely to appear at the American Geophysical Union meetings after December.
(The reporter is in Washington DC on an invitation from Rolex)
Jun 15, 2019 06:53 IST