Is Mt. Everest melting?

When you think of the tallest mountain in the world, Everest, snow, ice, blizzards and cold come to mind. Global warming and its impacts are likely not part of the thought process. Nearly two years after the devastating 2014 earthquake that triggered massive avalanches and killed scores in Tibet, signs of change likely due to earth’s warming have cropped up.

“It is shrinking,” Dr. Nima Namgyal Sherpa, an Everest expedition organizer. “It’s melting every year.”

While climbers and expedition organizers have long said there are good years and bad years, lucky seasons and unlucky ones, scientists and locals alike now say the mountain’s environmental conditions have been irrevocably altered.

Norbu Tenzing Norgay, son of the first man known to have summited alongside Sir Edmund Hillary, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, says some glaciers in the region have undergone such extensive melting that crevasses are nearly too wide to traverse.

“My brother was on a mountain recently where it was normally full of snow, and he said he wasn’t going back because there wasn’t enough,” said Norgay. “He had to use more ladders to cross those crevasses.”

“Last year around this time, it was much colder, but this year it is unusually warm,” said Dr. Nima Namgyal Sherpa, who has spent time on the mountain for each of the past six seasons. “Usually we have these streams coming down in the end of May, but now it comes quite early for the season.”

Satellite data

Joseph Shea, senior glacier hydrologist at the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, says satellite data that measures glacial volume shows at least one square meter of annual shrinkage.Last year, an international research team lead by Shea predicted that 70 to 99 percent of Everest glaciers would disappear by 2100, and that the melting has reached an unstoppable point.

“The glaciers there are in retreat, so we’re losing area every year,” he said.“But more importantly, we are losing volumes.

“Even if you stop emitting all the greenhouse gas and climate stops changing today, you’ll still have glacier losses because the system is now out of balance, it’s out of equilibrium,” he added. “So, even for the next 150 years, the glacial retreat will continue without any additional forcing.”

Long term, far-reaching consequences

With Chinese scientists reporting temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau rising at a pace of four times the global average, researchers expect glacial runoff to cause widespread regional flooding, followed by long-term droughts, as ancient bodies of ice disappear or become drastically reduced.

Sherpas and other Himalayan communities will be the most vulnerable to such disasters.

“If lakes burst above the villages in the Everest areas between 12,000 to 13,000 feet, there are villages all the way down the streams that will be wiped out,” said Norgay, describing high-altitude lakes of glacial runoff appearing throughout the region.“The danger is very real.”

According to the Chinese Academy of Science, an estimated 1,100 glacial lakes have appeared since the institute’s first regional inventory of inland bodies of water, which took place in 1990.While most runoff lakes are dammed by unstable mountain slope debris, small outbursts have occurred, most notably in June 2015, when a small earthquake in India triggered an outburst in Bhutan.

“Our glaciers are melting, causing flash floods and landslides, which in turn cause disaster and widespread destruction in our country,” said Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in his March TED Talk.

 

6 Comments

  1. Soundmind

    GAME OVER! It’s too late. The target to prevent 2 degrees rise over the coming decades cannot be met short of a devastating event that will reduce the world’s population substantially, say by about 2/3 to 3/4 and it may even already be too late for that. The root cause if the so called experts are right is overpopulation. Your morality along with most others was created at a time when the human race was faced with extinction due to a paucity of numbers. Now it faces extinction due to a surfeit of numbers yet the world maintains the same morality where the values are based on unchecked unlimited population growth.

    The notion that people in the developed world like the US must live at a lower standard so that those in the undeveloped world can live better lives like in China is politically unacceptable. China is now the largest producer of CO2 in the world and there really is no end in sight. Most of its energy comes from burning coal. From Coal to Chongqing (city of 18 million, not its largest.) But that’s just the beginning. China is planning to build a city Jing-Jin-Ji that will have a population of 130 million and be larger than the state of Kansas. As large as China is, India is catching up and is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation.

    Everyone wants the same comforts, conveniences, and freedom to travel as we do. In short they want to consume energy on a much greater scale. With today’s technology there is no viable alternative to burning fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is very dangerous, expensive, and an inefficient use of money. So called renewables will only make a slight dent at best in demand. Electricity from nuclear fusion is a pipe dream and the experiments being conducted in it may put a vast hole in what will have once been south central Europe. Anyone who has been in a power outage and thinks about it will realize that the major difference between life in the 19th century and life in the 21st century is electrical power. So play your little feel good games. Change your incandescent lamps to high efficiency compact fluorescents that contain mercury. Put solar panels on your roof and on street lamps. Build solar panel fields, windmill farms, biomass, tidal power, cogen plants, it won’t matter. Most energy savings schemes are scams anyway. That’s not a guess, it’s an informed professional opinion. Game over! Have a nice day.

    Reply
  2. paulmcgowan

    Thanks Mark and good to see you back, here! I agree with most of what you’ve written though I don’t agree that there isn’t an answer – but we’re close to that not being true.

    Alternatives like solar, wind and tidal will help, they’ll never provide enough energy to do the job completely.

    No, there is an answer but we’d better get crackin’

    Reply
  3. Soundmind

    There is an answer? Okay, what is it? We live like primitives so that we don’t consume as much energy while other nations live better because their standard of living is so poor? Will America put up with this notion in a hopeless attempt to stem the tide? Never. Will fusion energy work? Probably not and even if it did, a runaway fusion reaction would be a thousand times worse than a Chernobyl or a Fukushima. I have yet to see any form of energy conversion system that didn’t produce enormous quantities of waste heat. If a fission reactor needs at least a river to cool it, a fusion reactor would need an ocean and we’re back to global warming.

    So where could the answer come from. Simple and obvious. The earth is like an egg. We live on the thin shell, the crust. Dig deep enough anywhere and it gets hotter and hotter until you reach magma, molten rock. Over 99%of the volume of the planet is molten liquid. Existing geothermal systems are open systems. Whether the water is already there or pumped in, when it is extracted it is so impure that it must be polished, that is chemically cleaned to the point where it is safe to run it through a turbine without fouling it. But that removes most of the enthalpy, the usable energy of heat. A closed system would not suffer this problem. Sound implausible? No more so than splitting atoms, fusing atoms, determining every atom of DNA in every species and then being able to synthesize it with a machine and grow it in a stem cell or putting rovers on Mars and taking close up pictures of Pluto and sending them back to earth.

    Why didn’t I choose this as a career? It didn’t interest me. Still doesn’t. BTW, I’m not an energy saving sort of person. If you think there’s a lot of snake oil in the high end audio world, it’s peanuts compared to the wild west of energy savings schemes most of which don’t deliver the savings promised if they even work at all. And who drives this runaway train? My nemesis, ASHRAE, the people who brought us sick building syndrome in a fatal scheme to make buildings tight as a drum to conserve energy even before global warming was a consideration.

    Reply
    1. paulmcgowan

      Thanks Mark and I’ll bet that’s a reasonable solution if it weren’t so hard and the molten core so deep. But perhaps it’s a good alternative. No, I have something else in mind, but that’ll have to wait just a smidge.

      Reply
  4. Soundmind

    It should not be necessary or even desirable to drill down 70 miles to the magma. It would get hot enough far short of that. There are areas where there is a great deal of heat not too far below the surface, probably only a few tens of miles or even less. The supply of heat from the earth which can be turned into clean steam in a closed system and therefore electricity is in human terms limitless. It is also clean as it does not produce CO2. Who owns the best drilling technology? Large oil companies. There isn’t much money to be made from a power plant that doesn’t consume fuel after it is built.

    Mount Everest is not melting. It’s made of rock formations like the rest of the Himilayas. The Himalayan mountain range and Tibetan plateau have formed as a result of the collision between the Indian Plate and Eurasian Plate which began 50 million years ago and continues today. Only the ice and snow on top of it is melting.

    It would be relatively easy to bring the earth’s temperature down quickly and effectively for a relatively short period. Just nuke an active volcano. The eruption of Karakatoa in the East Indies had an effect on climate so profound it snowed in July in London.

    Reply
    1. paulmcgowan

      I suppose that’s right – and I get the headline that Everest is melting was not meant to imply the rocks were melting. 🙂 Got me there.

      Reply

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