Mount Everest is losing several DECADES-worth of ice annually thanks to climate change, study warns

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It’s the ultimate challenge for climbers around the world, but the option to climb Mount Everest could be at risk – thanks to climate change.

New research has revealed how Mount Everest’s highest glacier, South Col Glacier, is losing decades-worth of ice annually amid rising temperatures.

Worryingly, this could lead to more avalanches and decreased water supply, upon which more than one billion people depend for drinking water and irrigation.

The increased melting could also make Mount Everest even more challenging to scale with more exposed bedrock, according to the team from the University of Maine.

‘Climate predictions for the Himalaya suggest continued warming and continued glacier mass loss, and even the top of the Everest is impacted by anthropogenic source warming,’ said Mariusz Potocki, a glaciochemist who worked on the study.

New research has revealed how Mount Everest's highest glacier, South Col Glacier, is losing decades-worth of ice annually amid rising temperatures

New research has revealed how Mount Everest’s highest glacier, South Col Glacier, is losing decades-worth of ice annually amid rising temperatures

The Everest Expedition 

The 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition was the most comprehensive scientific expedition to Mount Everest in history. 

As part of the study, the team installed two weather stations, and collected and ice core from the top of Mount Everest.

The weather stations stand at 27,657ft (8,420 metres) and 26,066ft (7,945 metres), making them the highest weather stations in the world.

Meanwhile, the ice core was taken at 26,312ft (8,020 metres), making it the highest of its kind.

The findings come from the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition – the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mount Everest in history.

As part of the study, the team installed two weather stations, and collected an ice core from the top of Mount Everest.

The weather stations stand at 27,657ft (8,420 metres) and 26,066ft (7,945 metres), making them the highest weather stations in the world.

Meanwhile, the ice core was taken at 26,312ft (8,020 metres), making it the highest of its kind.

An analysis of the ice core revealed estimated ice thinning rates of around 6.5ft (2 metres) per year.

According to the researchers, this is largely due to the fact that the glacier has turned from snowpack to ice, meaning it has lost its ability to reflect solar radiation, and in turn increasing melting.

Worryingly, the findings also suggest that around 180ft (55 metres) of the glacier has thinned in the past quarter-century, thinning over 80 times faster than the nearly 2,000 years it took to form.

South Col Glacier is extremely exposed, meaning that while warming air temperatures were the main cause of the melting, strong winds are also a factor.

The findings come from the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition – the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mount Everest in history

The findings come from the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition – the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mount Everest in history

Overall the findings point to the critical balance that snow-covered surfaces provide to Mount Everest.

In their paper, the researchers wrote: ‘Everest’s highest glacier has served as a sentinel for this delicate balance and has demonstrated that even the roof of the Earth is impacted by anthropogenic source warming.’

The team hopes the findings will highlight the widespread effects of warming temperatures around the world.

Paul Mayewski, co-author of the study, added: ‘It answers one of the big questions posed by our 2019 NGS/Rolex Mount Everest Expedition — whether the highest glaciers on the planet are impacted by human-source climate change. 

As part of the study, the team installed two weather stations, and collected an ice core from the top of Mount Everest. Red arrow indicates where the ice core was taken, while the yellow arrow shows the location of the Balcony weather station

As part of the study, the team installed two weather stations, and collected an ice core from the top of Mount Everest. Red arrow indicates where the ice core was taken, while the yellow arrow shows the location of the Balcony weather station

‘The answer is a resounding yes, and very significantly since the late 1990s.’ 

The study comes shortly after researchers from the University of Leeds warned that Himalayan glaciers are melting at an ‘exceptional rate’ and could threaten the supply of water for hundreds of millions of people in Asia.

Researchers found that Himalayan glaciers have lost ice 10 times more quickly over the last few decades – predominantly since the year 2000 – than on average since the Little Ice Age hundreds of years ago. 

The Little Ice Age was a period of major mountain-glacier expansion that spanned from around the early 14th century through to the mid-19th century, when rivers froze over and crops were decimated.  

Himalayan glaciers are also now shrinking far more rapidly than glaciers in other parts of the world, which is raising sea levels, the study also found. 

This accelerating melting has implications for hundreds of millions of residents who depend on Asia’s major rivers for food and energy – including the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus. 

CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST

Everest is the world’s tallest mountain, and sits along the border of Nepal and Tibet. 

Its height is a controversial subject, with different methods of measurements producing altering results.

However, the general consensus is Mt Everest sits 29,029ft (8,848m) above sea level.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the summit on May 29 1953 as part of the British expedition led by Lord John Hunt.

As of February 2014, Everest had been scaled 6,871 times by 4,042 mountaineers. 

Tragically, 265 people died while climbing Everest between 1922 and 2014.

On April 18 2014, 16 high-altitude workers were killed in the Khumbu Icefall below Camp 1 when a block of glacial ice collapsed.

These workers often act as guides, and carry tents and other supplies up the mountain for hikers. 

Most expeditions take around two months. 

Alpine Ascents recommends you spend at least a year training specifically to climb Everest. 

‘You will need to progressively ramp up your hike time, distance, and elevation gain (at roughly 10 per cent per week) to safely and effectively build your climbing- specific conditioning,’ it claims. 

Those hoping to reach the summit should also complete expeditions above 20,000ft (6,096m) beforehand. 

And have experience ‘dealing with equipment’ and ‘handling extremely cold temperatures and extreme altitude’. 

Almost all those who climb Everest use a commercial expedition operator. 

Prices vary from $65,000 (around £50,250) to $35,000 (£27,060). A tax of around $11,000 (£8,500) also goes to the Nepali Government.

And each climber has to pay $600 (£460) to the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee.

All expedition operators must have helicopter and life insurance.  

Source: BMC 

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