Last Updated on June 23, 2019 6:37 pm
BOONE, N.C. — From April to June, as part of a robust effort to improve understanding of and resilience to the impacts of climate change on mountain systems, National Geographic and Tribhuvan University led what is likely the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to Mount Everest. It included two faculty researchers from Appalachian State University: Dr. Baker Perry and Dr. 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, installing the world’s two highest operating weather stations that 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, examining 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 (GLORIA) stations in the Himalaya.
Filling critical knowledge gaps
As part of the expedition, the multidisciplinary team achieved the following:
- Installed the two highest weather stations in the world (at 8,430 meters and 7,945 meters).
- Collected the highest-ever ice core sample (at 8,020 meters).
- Conducted comprehensive biodiversity surveys at multiple elevations.
- Completed the highest-elevation helicopter-based lidar scan.
- Expanded the elevation records for high-dwelling species.
- Documented the history of the mountain’s glaciers.
In a June 13 panel discussion as 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 said he was impressed with the resiliency of the entire team. “We faced a lot of challenges — 90% 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.”
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.”
Documenting change through storytelling
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 expeditions aim to explore and better understand some of the most extreme environments on planet Earth.h.
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, including 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 with duct tape and a shovel handle to complete assembly of the 7-foot-tall station.
Follow updates from the expedition
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.
About Baker Perry
About Anton Seimon
A native of South Africa, Dr. Anton Seimon is a geographer with research experience on a broad variety of themes in atmospheric and environmental science, including monitoring climate change impacts on high alpine watersheds in the Peruvian Andes; present-day and past tropical Andean and African climates; high-intensity tornadoes; and conservation planning for climate change using high-resolution Earth System Models. He is a National Geographic Explorer and leads research programs on a diverse range of themes in the earth, atmospheric and environmental sciences. He currently works with conservationists to plan for climate change in tropical Africa using Earth System Model supercomputer simulations.