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Mountaintop telemetry: Mont Blanc in 1874, K2 in 2014, and weathermen about the spring Everest icefall accident

Posted: Aug 20, 2014 04:17 pm EDT

(Tina Sjogren) Most ExWeb readers are familiar with the Italian Pyramid close to Everest base camp in Nepal, run by Italian researches and a prominent K2 mountaineer. The futuristic building, a triangle made out of solar panels, actually rests on the shoulders of great pioneers: Already in 1874, French engineers built a system of weather and snow-depth sensors on Mont Blanc that transmitted real-time information to Paris. 


Real time data from K2 to solve the puzzle of growing glaciers


Fast forward 140 years. This past season the EvK2CNR Italian pyramid folks mounted the highest meteorological climate monitoring station in the Baltoro area, directly on the glacier at 4970 meters near the Italian 60-years-later expedition. 


The modular station was designed by Italian Cae, leader in multi hazard and early warning systems. Four sensors (an anemometer,  a thermoigrometer,  a barometer, and an albedometer) transmitted wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, snow level and solar irradiation to researchers.

Project organizers said hardest was the automated communication system and real time data connection. Madi, a Pakistani technician, helped install the station and calibrate the sensors. 


On June 30, the first ever data received in real time from K2 showed temperature at K2 BC -1° minimum and 6.9 maximum; wind flow 13 Km/h and a relative humidity of low minimum 27% and maximum 75% (the raw real time data is available at EvK2CNR website).  

The data will help understand local conditions. Curiously, Himalaya glaciers have been shrinking while some Karakoram glaciers have been growing. 


This came into light last spring when the Everest icefall collapsed and killed a large number of Sherpa. If the serac broke off due to a shrinking glacier in a melting climate, what was the deal with the growing glaciers in Pakistan?


Everest tragedy: a quake?


Adding to confusion, some said a quake could have destabilized the wall, which wasn't too far-fetched either.


The Sagarmatha region is characterized by a high sliding speed; Everest base rocks shift 4 cm yearly reported the Italian weathermen who also set up a quake station just this year near the Pyramid in Nepal. The Pyramid itself has moved one meter to the north-east since it was constructed in 1990. Not far from there, the Italian researchers said, in 1934 an 8.1 Earthquake only 15 km from Everest killed more than 10.000 people.


In an effort to get some facts behind the speculations flowing from Everest base camp this chaotic spring season Explorersweb asked the Pyramid folks: Are the glaciers shrinking or not? If they are, then by how much, and why? While no answer to what caused the Everest tragedy, here's what they said.


Italian Pyramid researchers about Everest glaciers


"The South side of Mt. Everest is one of the heavily glacierized parts of the Himalaya with the presence of many debris-covered glaciers, i.e. those glaciers where the ablation zone is almost entirely covered by surface debris.


Among the others, the largest ones are surely Ngojumba, Lumbsamba, Khumbu, just flowing down from the top of the world, and Lhotse.


Recent studies have provided a comprehensive picture of the glaciers changes south of Mt. Everest in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal during the second half of the 20th century through comparison of a map applicable to the late 1950s with the official map of Nepal in the early 1990s.


The comparison reveals a slight overall decrease in glacier area (by 4.9%, from 403.9 to 384.6km2), a result which, though potentially subject to errors arising from cartographic interpretation, is in line with the area reductions found by other studies of Asian glaciers.


More recently a complete analysis from 1962 to 2011 have been performed using optical satellite imagery on 29 glaciers, accounting for nearly the totality of glacier area in Sagarmatha National Park (98%). An overall surface area shrinkage of 13 %, an upward shift of the Snow Line Altitude of about 180 m, a terminus retreat of about 400 m, and an increase of the debris coverage of 18% have been found.


The recession process of glaciers has been relentlessly continuous over the past fifty years. Furthermore, since the early 1990s, we have observed an acceleration of the surface area shrinkage, which resulted in a median annual rate double that of the previous three decades, all indications which point to a worsening of the already negative mass balance of these glaciers.


However, the increased recession velocity has only significantly affected the glaciers with the largest sizes, which are located at higher altitudes and along the preferable south-oriented direction of the monsoons.


This finding leads to the hypothesis that the Mt. Everest glaciers are shrinking, beyond that due to warming temperatures, as a result of the weakening Asian monsoon registered over the last several decades. We conclude that the shrinkage of these glaciers is less than that of others in the Himalayan range (and much less than that of the Alpine glaciers).


However, their high elevations and the steeper slopes that create a debris coverage, both of which have surely reduced the impact of warming, have not been able to exclude these glaciers from a relentlessly continuous and slow recession process over the past fifty years."


For more information:


surface-area changes in Sagarmatha national park, Nepal, in the second half of the 20th century, by

comparison of historical maps. Journal of Glaciology, 54, 187.


TARTARI G. (2013) - Tracing glacier changes since the 1960s on the south slope of Mt. Everest

(central southern Himalaya) using optical satellite imagery. The Cryosphere Discuss., 7, 5389-5432.



More about the Mont Blanc system

1930 movie about it 




Poster from 1930s about the high tech weather station on Mont Blanc.
Ev-K2-CNR at work: latest on K2 in Pakistan
The wandering Pyramid: In June EvK2CNR installed a seismic station, one of the world's highest at 5,050 m.