Extreme Everest Ice Survey

April 2010
Location: Khumbu, Nepal
55°55'N | 86°42'E

Extreme Everest Ice Survey

The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is the most wide-ranging glacier study ever conducted using ground based, real time photography. EIS uses time-lapse photography, conventional photography and video to document the rapid changes now occurring on the Earth’s glacial ice.

To date the majority of the time–lapse work done by the EIS has focused on high latitude, ice sheets that disperse to tidewater glaciers. The Everest Ice Survey (EvIS) aims to take this technology to the high Himalaya and Earth’s most iconic peak, Mt. Everest. To fully understand the dynamics of these glaciers the EvIS will incorporate three types of visual study: time-lapse photography, historical photography and satellite imagery.

By setting three time-lapse camera locations the EvIS hopes to study the Khumbu icefall and an alpine glacier on the south face of Ama Dablam. One location will document the movement (velocity) of ice from the Western Cwm over the narrow precipice formed by Everest and Nuptse. The Khumbu Ice Fall is integral to the ascent of the standard south side route. In addition to ice movement the time-lapse photography will capture climbers ascending and descending the icefall. The second Khumbu location will be located further westward and will cover Everest from the summit, through the Western Cwm and down to the rock covered section. The data from this camera will help understand how the Khumbu Glacier is fed and provide dramatic images for the mountain in a variety of conditions. The Ama Dablam location will document an alpine glacier with a southern exposure. These types of glaciers are at greatest risk in a warming climate. The data will provide an extensive opportunity to study the accumulation and ablation zones. The cameras will be installed in the spring of 2010 and run through spring of 2013. The mounts will be monitored quarterly by two Nepali technicians and the data sent to the EIS & INSTAAR laboratories for compression and analysis.

To document historical change the EvIS hopes to access the images collection of the late Barry Bishop, member of the 1963 American Everest Expedition. From 1960 to 1963 Mr. Bishop photographed the Everest region in association with the National Geographic Society. He was on the first ascent of Ama Dablam in 1961 and climbed Everest with the American team in 1963. With permission of his family the EvIS would use a specific photographer, Cory Richards of Red Lodge, Montana, to find the same location the photos were taken and geo-locate the site with a GPS. The images would be near to exact in location and seasonality. By comparing images 50 years apart the change the glaciers have experienced in this period would be visually obvious. Having Cory Richards replicate Barry Bishop’s work will ensure that style and uniformity remain constant. This is appealing from both an artistic and scientific standpoint.

The third component of visual representation is satellite imagery. Satellite radar interferometry (SRI) and satellite feature tracking (SRFT) provide precise measurement. The data collected form satellite differentiates ice, rock and vegetation. The view covers length, width and velocity but does not accurately account for changes in volume.

The overarching goal is to use three means of visual interpretation to understand Himalayan glaciers and present this to the public in a concise and informative manner. The importance of this project are captured in the following summary from D.J. Quincy:

The short-term implication (i.e. next 10 years) of stagnant and near-stagnant glacier ice melting at high altitude is for increased development of large-scale glacial lakes, particularly on debris-covered glaciers where in situ decay promotes melt water ponding and lake growth, behind either remnant glacier ice or the terminal moraine. Longer- term, there is likely to be a knock-on effect for water resources, although the exact temporal and spatial shifts in runoff distribution remain poorly understood. It is therefore imperative that such glaciers are regularly monitored using techniques such as those demonstrated here, both in the Everest region and elsewhere, and that further efforts are made to understand the locally specific response of Himalayan glaciers to sustained climatic forcing, so that more accurate predictions of changes to seasonal and annual runoff regimes can be made.