Comprehensive Mt. Everest Study Draws Attention to Human-Induced Damage

Graphic by Annabel Driussi

As National Geographic recently reported, on Friday new findings from the most comprehensive scientific expedition to Mt. Everest (known locally as Sagarmatha and Chomolangma) in history were released in the journal One Earth. This new research, part of the 2019 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition, sheds crucial information about how climate change is affecting Earth’s highest-mountain glaciers.

Key Findings Include:

  • The highest-ever recorded sample of microplastics was found on the “Balcony” of Mt. Everest at 8,440 m, one of the last resting spots before reaching the summit.
  • Researchers surveyed nearly 80 glaciers around Mt. Everest and found evidence of consistent glacial mass loss over the last 60 years and that glaciers are thinning, even at extreme altitudes above 6,000 m
  • Additionally, the research captures the first documented surge of a glacier in the Mt. Everest region, a phenomenon that can put people and communities at risk.


Why This Matters: Glaciers like those of Mt. Everest provide 20% of the world’s population but because of the extreme altitudes at which they exist, little information up until now has existed about the impacts of climate change at elevations above 5,000m.

Additionally, this new data shows the ways in which a remote and pristine ecosystem is being affected by plastic pollution, revealing that not even Earth’s highest peak is exempt from the plastic pollution crisis.

Mountains and their rapidly-disappearing glaciers are the “water towers” of our planet, storing and transporting freshwater to nearly two billion people around the world. That water supply is increasingly under threat due to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, pollution, and other human-caused and environmental stressors,” said Paul Mayewski, Scientific and Expedition Lead, and Director, Climate Change Institute University of Maine.

A Plastic Problem: As UPI  explained, over the last few decades, human traffic on Mount Everest has steadily increased.

  • More and more people are visiting the mountain’s basecamp each year, and more and more climbers are attempting to summit Earth’s tallest mountain. As a result, pollution is accumulating.
  • Microplastic pollution in Earth’s oceans has garnered a lot of scientific interest, but only a few studies have focused on microplastic pollution on land. The latest is the first to investigate microplastic pollution on Mount Everest.

National Geographic elaborated that a large proportion of that waste is made out of non-biodegradable plastic. While visible plastic has been reported on Mt. Everest previously, the pristine environment at Earth’s highest peaks is changing. The new data highlights that the collected snow samples had significantly more microplastics compared to the stream samples, with the majority of microplastics being fibrous.

Water Snapshot: As Frontiers in Earth Sciences wrote: retreating glaciers and snowpack loss threaten high-altitude communities that rely upon seasonal melt for domestic water resources. This latest study fills in data gaps to help scientists understand how communities dependent on water sources originating from the Himalayas will be affected by Everest’s changing glaciers.

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