Saturday, 28 June 2014

Taking the pulse of Himalayan glaciers... by Ann Rowan

Morgan Gibson and Duncan Quincey digging a hole to find
out the thickness and to look at the thermal properties
of the supraglacial debris layer
Glaciers in the Himalaya are changing at a remarkable rate, but we know relatively little about how and why this is happening. BGS geologist Dr Ann Rowan and her team have just returned from six weeks in the Everest region of Nepal trying to find out more. Here's Ann to share her amazing adventure and some truly (and literally) breath taking photos.

I'm working with Dr Duncan Quincey (University of Leeds), Dr Tris Irvine-Fynn (Aberystwyth University) and Miss Morgan Gibson (PhD student at Aberystwyth University) to investigate how glacier volumes vary over time and to measure how influential the Indian monsoon is relative to Northern Hemisphere climate variations. Our field site is the highest glacier in the world—the iconic Khumbu Glacier in Nepal, a 20-km glacier flowing from the southern slopes of Mt. Everest.
The debris-covered ablation area of Khumbu Glacier
seen looking south from the summit of Kala Pathar
Meltwater from glaciers in the Nepalese Himalaya feeds into some of Earth’s largest rivers, including the Ganges and the Bramaputra, and millions of people rely on this water for agriculture and hydropower. Our team are collecting field data and developing computer models to discover how glaciers in this region could vary with future climate change. We arrived in Nepal just as the Everest climbing season had been shut down following a massive avalanche at the Khumbu Icefall on 18th April which resulted in the deaths of 16 Sherpa climbers. This tragic event illustrates how important it is to understand the mountain cryosphere and to predict what will happen in future to this region where many people live and work in the mountains.


Home for most of May. Camping at Lobuche on the true-right lateral
moraine of the glacier. The peak in the background is Pumori
Observations of large, high-altitude Himalayan glaciers are scarce, which makes understanding their behaviour in the future very difficult. The lack of data is mostly due to the remote location of these glaciers, but after our first field season at Khumbu Glacier I would add that the 10-day trek to get there, horrible altitude sickness, being woken up by hungry yaks at 5am, monsoon snow, and the sheer exhaustion of spending every day working on a debris-covered glacier at 5000 m above sea level may also have something to do with it!

Despite the challenges of working in such an extreme environment, we had a successful and enjoyable field season and are now busy working on writing up the first set of results. Myself and Morgan are looking forward to returning to the Khumbu in November to collect more data after the summer monsoon has ended. I'll be sure to update you on our adventures once im back but you can follow us live via our Twitter account @KhumbuGlacier.
The Khumbu Icefall and Mt. Everest seen from the summit of Kala Pathar

A hungry-looking yak checks out our camp at sunrise
Camping was less fun  once the monsoon snow started!


by Ann

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