Everest’s Highest Glacier Loses 2,000 Years of Ice in 25 Years

Climate scientists have published a groundbreaking study on the degradation of glaciers in the Hindu Kush and the Himalaya, including Everest (8,849m). It revealed a rapid and accelerating melt-off at the top of the world.

Few studies exist about how rising global temperatures affect the world’s highest ranges. To bridge this gap, scientists went to the Nepalese side of Everest in spring 2019. They did in-depth studies of biology, geology, glaciology, and meteorology. They reported their findings this week in Nature Portfolio Journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.

Everest seen from the South Col glacier. Photo: Creative commons

Everest from the South Col glacier. Photo: Creative Common

Everest South Col glacier dwindling rapidly

The team installed Earth’s two highest weather stations on the South Col Glacier and pulled an ice core sample. They found that this glacier is losing ice 80 times faster than it took to build up. That amounts to a loss of 2,000 years’ worth of ice in just 25 years. The rate of degradation continues to increase. Currently, the glacier is shedding several decades of ice annually.

Among other things, the study concludes that the glaciers aren’t safe anywhere on the mountain. Strong winds at high, dry altitudes lead to more sublimation, though less melt-off. Increased humidity at lower altitudes lessens sublimation, but then melt increases in the warmer air.

“[This study] answers one of the big questions…whether the highest glaciers on the planet are impacted by human-sourced climate change,” said glaciologist Paul Mayewski. “The answer is a resounding yes, and very significantly since the late 1990s.”

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
3 months ago

I couldn’t figure out what AWS meant in the first caption, but with some persistent googling I found the Nature article, which explains that it stands for automatic weather station. Amazing that they managed to set those up so high.

Randy Hamilton
Randy Hamilton
3 months ago

Human-sourced? I saw climate change for sure, but the earth and sun go through changes that not even the mighty human cannot control. It could be that correct? I didn’t see any proof that the glaciers are disappearing were because of man. But I mean it could of course be man, but they need to show proof. Help people make the connection. Reduce the possibility that you are just stating an opinion. Seems like the biggest countries of pollution, India and China, are right next to the Himalayas, so we might want to start with them as possible culprits and… Read more »