Rising Temperatures Are Melting Everest Beyond Recognition

Scientists have determined that rising temperatures and increased climate change may cause great detriment to Mt. Everest and surrounding villages.

Credit: Yale University

Credit: Yale University

Last year, amidst scores of determined mountaineers, two Ph.D. students braved the harsh environment of Mt. Everest to seek the answer to one question: just how quickly will the world’s highest glacier melt?

This spring, they continue their research. It is no surprise that the highest of elevations around the world have experienced ice melts at an extremely rapid rate; Everest is no different. The effects of global warming are likely to manifest themselves in detrimental ways – and very soon.

Khumbu Glacier, which allows for access to the Everest Base Camp, will shrink, and it is possible that some areas of the glacier may become impassable for climbers. Additionally, base camp itself may have to be relocated to a nearby location in order to preserve the safety of climbers. Perhaps of even greater detriment, however, is the higher chance of rock and ice avalanches at the Khumbu Icefall. Rising temperatures may accelerate the natural migration of materials at the Icefall, increasing the normal three to four feet per day to an even greater amount.

As Duncan Quincey, professor of geomorphology at the University of Leeds and supervisor of candidates Owen King and Scott Watson, stated, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you increase the temperature where ice is normally frozen to the bedrock, the hold is going to be weakened and become increasingly unstable and the ice is more likely to detach from the bedrock.” He went on to explain that tragic accidents in places like the Icefall are often seen, and the conditions present are “symptomatic of high-elevation warming.”

Not only is unstable ice a major concern, but the meltwater presents serious issues as well. Naturally the water pools on the surface of both the Khumbu Glacier on the south side of the mountain, and the Rongbuk Glacier on the north. Both drain and resolidify back into ice as the seasons change. Increased temperatures mean more meltwater, which in turn translates into ponds that do not disappear; instead, they combine into small lakes. An upcoming paper co-authored by the aforementioned academics demonstrates that the ponds on the Khumbu Glacier alone have increased in size by 84 percent between the years of 2009 and 2015.

According to Quincey, the Eastern area of the Himalaya have seen “more and more [lakes] developing.” He continues on to explain how “it’s a positive feedback cycle: a small pond absorbs more radiation than it would if it was a rock, and that heats the water, which melts more ice, and the pond gets bigger.”

The concern is that side of one of the lakes on the Glacier may give, creating a cascade of water and debris that will flow to the villages located in the Khumbu Valley. While the researchers doubt it will occur in any sudden form, they do stress it is a concern that must be acknowledged, as similar phenomenons have occurred in the past. As Ph.D. candidate King stated, “It’s alarming how fast it changes.”

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