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12 April 2017

Scientists to Study the Effect of Climate Change on Everest’s Khumbu Glacier

A new research project known as EverDrill is aiming to take a team of scientists led by Professor Bryn Hubbard of Aberystwyth University to the frozen slopes of Everest. While there, they will attempt to become the first team to successfully drill through Khumbu glacier, the highest glacier in the world.

It is hoped that if successful this will allow them to take a look into the heart of the glacier to understand how it is being affected by climate change. They will take measurements on temperature, flow rate, and how the water drains through it in order to ascertain how it may change in the future.

The group will make use of a drill adapted from a car wash of all things to cut through the glacier, but working at an altitude of approximately 5,000m is sure to provide some challenges. In fact, they’re not even sure how well their equipment will perform once they arrive on site.

“Working in the field is challenging at best, but this mission presents some particular challenges,” said Prof Hubbard.

“We don't know how well our equipment will perform at altitude, let alone how we will be able to contend with the thin air.”

The struggle will be somewhat lessened due to the fact that around half of the team’s equipment will be airlifted to the site rather than dragged up the slopes, while the remaining half will be carried by Sherpas and yaks much better suited to the climate than the researchers themselves. However the drill, which is powered by three Honda generators that under normal conditions produce a jet of pressurised hot water capable of cutting through tarmac, will likely only be able to operate at about 50% capacity on site at the glacier, due to the lack of oxygen is the thin air.

Despite the challenges ahead of himself and his team, Prof Hubbard will not be downhearted, as he stresses that understanding what happens in these glaciers is “critical” to predicting their response to climate change, and as such should be considered of the utmost importance.

“Equally important is developing a better understanding of how they flow so that we can better predict when dams that form on these glaciers are likely to be breached, releasing vast volumes of water to the valleys below,” says Prof Hubbard.

“This is a real risk in the Himalayas as it is in other regions such as the Andes, and has the potential to endanger the lives of thousands of people.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.