To the Roof of the World: WWU Faculty, Students Headed to Mount Everest this Spring to Study Climate Change

by John Thompson, Office of Communications and Marketing
  • Image of Mount Everest
    Mount Everest

John All, director of Western Washington University’s Mountain Environments Research Institute, will lead an international team of students and researchers – including a pair of WWU graduate students, Colin Schmidt and Morgan Scott, and Biology Professor Eric DeChaine – on an expedition to Mount Everest and its neighboring peak, Lhotse, this spring to research the impact of global climate change on the Himalayas.

The expedition, which runs from late March through early June, will be covered online by Outside magazine and will be part of World Clean Up Day,  to promote litter reduction around the world. They will collect data in the surrounding valleys near Everest for the first few weeks as they build their altitude tolerance, then push higher onto the slopes of Everest and Lhotse in Mid-April with the goal of summiting the peaks at the end of May.

The goal: To learn more about how anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is impacting the highest mountains in the world and their surrounding regions.

“The focus of our work in the Himalayas is to document changes in high mountain ecosystems as they respond to the effects of human land-use decisions, climate variability and change, and more,” said All. “And there is only so much you can do remotely. We need to be there to get this data. We need the actual snow, ice, and vegetation samples - and the higher, the better.”

For example, All and the researchers will be looking into how black carbon deposition – essentially soot and particulate air pollution generally referred to as Light Absorbing Particles, or LAPS – increase the rates at which the Himalaya’s snow and glaciers are melting. LAPs absorb solar radiation, which is converted to heat energy that is conducted into the surrounding snow and ice, leading to melting.

The expedition will also be looking to see how deforestation and the loss of shrub cover in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park is impacting the region. Schmidt’s research is focused on soil erosion modeling, while Scott will be looking at how climate change and tourism affect the community development of local Sherpa communities.

This will mark the 7th time All has been to the Everest region for his research.

Researchers affiliated with the expedition will also include Eric DeChaine, professor of Biology at Western Washington University; Sébastien Lavergne, Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine, Université Grenoble Alpes, France; Chris Dunn, a graduate student from the University of Colorado; and Kamal Humagain, assistant professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam.

DeChaine, a botanist conducting research into how alpine plant life is reacting to an ever-warming planet, will get back from the Himalayas in time for Spring quarter classes, then pack his bags for his summer research sampling in the Aleutian islands.

“It looks like I’m going to be busy,” he said.

Scott, a native of Covington, is a graduate student in the Environmental Studies program and Huxley College undergrad whose research focuses on human geography and residential attitudes towards conservation in protected areas

Schmidt, who is originally from South Kingstown, Rhode Island and also a graduate student in the Environmental Studies program, is researching a rangeland degradation model for the Peruvian Andes, and will be traveling to Nepal to learn more about the effects of climate change in mountain environments.

Local contacts for the expedition in Nepal include Hriday Lal Koirala, chair of the Central Department of Geography at Tribhuvan University, Ram Kailash Prasad Yadav, chair of the Central Department of Botany at Tribhuvan University, and Jyoti Prasad Gajurel, an ecological consultant at the Nepal National Rural Advancement Committee in Kathmandu.  Also joining the expedition to assist in field data and taking snow and ice samples will be several volunteers from the American Climber Science Program.

“The Himalaya and surrounding regions are undergoing rapid changes due to increasing populations and greater demands on resources,” said All. “What we are going to ascertain is how fast these changes are occurring, and begin figuring out how this data can be put into a broader action plan that can be used worldwide to adapt to climate change impacts before it’s too late. By understanding what is happening on the ground in these vulnerable locations, we can be better prepared for the future.”

For more information on the Everest expedition, please contact John All, director of Western Washington University’s Mountain Environments Research Institute, at john.all@wwu.edu, or visit the institute’s website at (https://meri.wwu.edu).

 

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:00am

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