New Photographs Show Impacts of Climate Change on Mt. Everest -- and Provide New Tools for Adaptation

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The new Everest climate change photographs will be shown at the Swiss Embassy, London on December 4, 2007 at the 150th anniversary of the Alpine Club at a special seminar, "Summits of Learning: 150 Years of Mountaineering, Mountains, and Science." For further information please contact Prof. Martin Price or go to http://www.cms.uhi.ac.uk/conferences/ac150/ac150.htm

Governments need to put mountains firmly back on the climate change agenda

New photographs of glaciers in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal, when compared with old photographs of the same locations show a world of melting glaciers and changing landscapes. They can also give practical insights and tools for adapting to these changes.

So says Dr. Alton Byers, Director of Research and Education at The Mountain Institute http://www.mountain.org. Byers returned Monday from a 30 day expedition in the Mt. Everest region retracing the steps of explorers from a half century ago. He re-photographed the 1955 glacier and landscape photos of Swiss glaciologist Fritz Müller and Austrian climber/cartographer Erwin Schneider. Muller spent eight months above 5,000 meters conducting his research on the slopes of Mount Everest. Schneider, Austria's top alpinist in the 1930s, launched numerous cartographic expeditions to the region between 1955 and 1961 that resulted in the beautiful Alpenvereinskarte maps. Each took hundreds of photographs and panoramas of the region's glaciers and high altitude landscapes.

"This is the first time that their photographs have been replicated, and they give us an on-the-ground experience of climate change in the Everest region during the past 60 years," says Byers, who lived in the Everest region for a year in the 1980s conducting his doctorate research. "Many small (less than .5 km2), "clean type" glaciers at the lower altitudes are now gone. Many larger ones have receded by half, and debris covered glaciers have visibly lost mass even though they've been insulated by boulders and soil." One set of photographs shows the Imja glacier, next to the popular Island Peak, as it appeared in 1955--now replaced with a 1 km2, 45 m deep lake that local people worry could break through its unconsolidated morainal dam at any time.

But viewing the glaciers through the eyes of the earlier mountaineer/scientists also gave Byers some new insights on how to identify, understand, and adapt to the changes related to warming, even on the world's highest mountain.

"Many statements have been made about climate change impacts in the Everest region in recent years based entirely on anecdotal evidence and popular theories," he says. "Like the work of Müller and Schneider, we now need more on-the-ground field studies by mountain geographers, anthropologists, glaciologists, and social scientists. By combining this with the superb remote sensing and computer modeling work that's been done, the two can enable us to identify the real threats, and the ways in which local people can adapt and reduce their vulnerabilities to change."

"Governments need to put mountains firmly back on the climate change agenda," he adds. "Millions and millions of people depend on mountains for their fresh water, power, natural and other resources, and we need to have thorough, fact-based understandings of how these resources may be effected by climate change before prescribing solutions." Through these studies, he says, local leaders, governments, and policy makers can gain better options for responding to the changes.

Byers' expedition was financed by The Mountain Institute, Washington, DC; the American Alpine Club, Golden, Colorado; and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal.    Photo exhibits and lectures are now being planned for display this winter at the American Alpine Club headquarters in Colorado; and in Nepal and Europe in partnership with ICIMOD. Select photos are available for posting on news websites.

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Lyn Soudien

Alton Byers
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