Expedition team members, including WCS Molecular Biologist Tracie Seimon, conducted state-of-the-art research at record-breaking heights that will help communities respond to climate risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions in the region.
From April to June 2019, an international team of scientists, climbers and storytellers, led by the National Geographic Society and Tribhuvan University and supported in partnership with Rolex, conducted a scientific expedition to Mount Everest, believed to be the most comprehensive single scientific expedition to the mountain in history. The multidisciplinary team installed the two highest weather stations in the world (at 8,430 meters and 7,945 meters), collected the highest-ever ice core sample (at 8,020 meters), conducted comprehensive biodiversity surveys at multiple elevations, completed the highest elevation helicopter-based lidar scan, expanded the elevation records for high-dwelling species and documented the history of the mountain’s glaciers.
Dr. Tracie Seimon, a WCS Molecular Biologist, conducted biodiversity surveys during the expedition. Seimon was part of a team of biologists who examined soil samples and glacial lakes to better understand the range of life surviving on Earth’s highest peaks. Wildlife, insects, and plants at these elevations are often indicator species that can help scientists understand changes taking place in an ecosystem that might not otherwise be visible. In this way, high-elevation species can help identify early warning signs of future impacts while providing evidence of how they are adapting to a changing environment.
Studies have shown that the glaciers of the Hindu Kush–Himalaya, where Mt. Everest is located, are rapidly disappearing due to increasing global temperatures. The extreme conditions of high-elevation mountain ranges have made studying the true impacts of climate and environmental changes nearly impossible. As a result, there are critical knowledge gaps about the history of these glaciers and about future impacts that their disappearance would have on the lives and livelihoods of the more than one billion people in the region who depend on the reliable flow of water these glaciers provide.
Said Seimon: “Mt. Everest is a living laboratory showing us how wildlife have adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet – and how quickly these conditions are changing. Studying these rapid changes will give us valuable insight as other parts of the world are impacted by global climate change.”
With team members from eight countries, including 17 Nepali researchers, the expedition team conducted trailblazing research in five areas of science that are critical to understanding environmental changes and their impacts: biology, glaciology, meteorology, geology, and mapping.
More in-depth information about the initial scientific findings and their significance is here.
The Everest expedition is part of National Geographic’s newly established Life at the Extremes program and is the first in a series of Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions that are supported by a renewed and expanded partnership between National Geographic and Rolex. The expeditions aim to explore and better understand some of the most extreme environments on planet Earth. Data collected from the Perpetual Planet Extreme Expeditions in these environments will support new decision-making tools, called Perpetual Planet Extreme Indices, which will provide real-time and historical data on the factors that contribute to the health of these ecosystems. Additionally, to underscore the urgency of the team’s work, the scientific research conducted by the expedition team will be complemented by coverage in National Geographic’s robust portfolio of media assets, including on NationalGeographic.com and in National Geographic magazine.
”Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity and there is still much to learn about how it’s already altered the world, from the deepest parts of the ocean to its tallest mountains,” said Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist at the National Geographic Society. “By harnessing our 131-year history of exploration and venturing into some of the most extreme environments on the planet, we will fill critical data gaps on the world’s life support systems and drive solutions to assure that they can continue to fuel our future.”
You can follow updates from the Perpetual Planet Extreme Expedition: Everest and explore historical and new data about the role of Mount Everest as a water tower for the region at www.natgeo.com/everest.
For more on the Life at the Extremes program, you can visit www.natgeo.org/extremes.