New photographs of
glaciers in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal, when compared with old
photographs of the same locations show a world of melting glaciers and
changing landscapes. They can also give practical insights and tools for
adapting to these changes.
So says Dr. Alton Byers,
Director of Research and Education at The Mountain Institute Byers returned
Monday from a 30 day expedition in the Mt. Everest region retracing the steps
of explorers from a half century ago. He re-photographed the 1955 glacier and
landscape photos of Swiss glaciologist Fritz Müller and Austrian
climber/cartographer Erwin Schneider. Muller spent eight months above 5,000
meters conducting his research on the slopes of Mount Everest. Schneider,
Austria's top alpinist in the 1930s, launched numerous cartographic
expeditions to the region between 1955 and 1961 that resulted in the beautiful
Alpenvereinskarte maps. Each took hundreds of photographs and panoramas of the
region's glaciers and high altitude landscapes.
"This is the first time that
their photographs have been replicated, and they give us an on-the-ground
experience of climate change in the Everest region during the past 60 years,"
says Byers, who lived in the Everest region for a year in the 1980s conducting
his doctorate research. "Many small (less than .5 km2), "clean type" glaciers
at the lower altitudes are now gone. Many larger ones have receded by half,
and debris covered glaciers have visibly lost mass even though they've been
insulated by boulders and soil." One set of photographs shows the Imja
glacier, next to the popular Island Peak, as it appeared in 1955--now replaced
with a 1 km2, 45 m deep lake that local people worry could break through its
unconsolidated morainal dam at any time.
But viewing the glaciers
through the eyes of the earlier mountaineer/scientists also gave Byers some
new insights on how to identify, understand, and adapt to the changes related
to warming, even on the world's highest mountain.
"Many statements have been
made about climate change impacts in the Everest region in recent years based
entirely on anecdotal evidence and popular theories," he says. "Like the work
of Müller and Schneider, we now need more on-the-ground field studies by
mountain geographers, anthropologists, glaciologists, and social scientists.
By combining this with the superb remote sensing and computer modeling work
that's been done, the two can enable us to identify the real threats, and the
ways in which local people can adapt and reduce their vulnerabilities to
"Governments need to put
mountains firmly back on the climate change agenda," he adds. "Millions and
millions of people depend on mountains for their fresh water, power, natural
and other resources, and we need to have thorough, fact-based understandings
of how these resources may be effected by climate change before prescribing
solutions." Through these studies, he says, local leaders, governments, and
policy makers can gain better options for responding to the changes.
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