BOONE — National Geographic and Tribhuvan University led a scientific expedition to Mount Everest to improve understanding of and resilience to the impacts of climate change on mountain systems. The expedition took place from April to June and included two faculty researchers from Appalachian State University: Baker Perry and Anton Seimon.
The expedition team conducted groundbreaking research in five areas of science that are critical to understanding environmental changes and their impacts: biology, glaciology, geology, mapping and meteorology.
Perry, a professor in Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning, served on the expedition’s meteorology team and helped install the world’s two highest operating weather stations. These stations will provide researchers, climbers and the public with near real-time information about mountain conditions and help continuously monitor the upper reaches of the atmosphere.
Seimon, a research assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, served on the expedition’s biology team and examined soil samples and glacial lakes to better understand the range of life surviving on Earth’s highest peaks. The team also installed four biodiversity monitoring systems that make up one of the highest Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments stations in the Himalaya.
According to National Geographic, studies have shown that the glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, where Mount Everest is located, are rapidly disappearing due to increasing global temperatures. The extreme conditions of high-elevation mountain ranges have made studying the true impacts of climate and environmental changes nearly impossible. As a result, there are critical knowledge gaps about the history of these glaciers and about future impacts that their disappearance would have on the lives and livelihoods of the more than 1 billion people in the region who depend on the reliable flow of water these glaciers provide.
“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity and there is still much to learn about how it’s already altered the world, from the deepest parts of the ocean to its tallest mountains,” said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist at the National Geographic Society. “By harnessing our 131-year history of exploration and venturing into some of the most extreme environments on the planet, we will fill critical data gaps on the world’s life support systems and drive solutions to assure that they can continue to fuel our future.”
The multidisciplinary team worked together to install a variety of systems and completed research that helped fill critical knowledge gaps such as collecting the highest- ever ice core sample (at 8,020 meters); conducting comprehensive biodiversity surveys at multiple elevations; completing the highest-elevation helicopter-based lidar scan; expanding the elevation records for high-dwelling species and documenting the history of the mountain’s glaciers.
During a June 13 panel discussion, which was part of National Geographic’s Explorers Festival, Perry said of his team’s weather station installation at more than 27,000 feet, “At the balcony, perched on the southeast ridge of Everest, we found a tiny outcrop of rock and were able to successfully — in a very small area — install the highest weather station in the world. Our Sherpa team was incredible in this effort. They had trained and we had practiced this — and I think their brains worked better at that elevation than ours do — and they were absolutely phenomenal in that team effort.”
Baker was impressed with the resiliency of the entire team. “We faced a lot of challenges — 90 percent of us faced sickness at some point, (and) there were other challenges brought on by the weather that compressed the number of summit days — and to achieve the successes we did was a remarkable testament to the strength of our Sherpa team, our science team, our media team and our Nepali support staff and our partners at Tribhuvan University.”
The Everest expedition is part of National Geographic’s new Life at the Extremes program and is the first in a series of Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions. The goal of the expedition is to explore and better understand some of the most extreme environments on planet Earth.
Data collected from the Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions in these environments will support new decision-making tools, called Perpetual Planet Extreme Indices, which will provide real-time and historical data on the factors that contribute to the health of these ecosystems. The scientific research conducted by the expedition team will be complemented by coverage on NationalGeographic.com and in National Geographic magazine.
A National Geographic story published June 13 touched on the human side of the expedition and described how Perry’s team overcame a serious obstacle while assembling the weather station at 27,650 feet. After discovering two important parts were missing from their gear, they improvised by using duct tape and a shovel handle to complete their assembly of the 7-foot-tall station.
Follow updates from the Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition: Everest and explore historical and new data about the role of Mount Everest as a water tower for the region at www.natgeo.com/everest.