The Mirpuri Foundation sponsored an expedition to Everest in April 2017, led by its President Paulo Mirpuri. Mount Everest, also known in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet as Chomolungma, is Earth’s highest mountain.
The Mirpuri Foundation expedition members included its President Paulo Mirpuri, his brother Luis Mirpuri and the well known mountaineer João Garcia. The Serdar (Sherpa team leader) was Sonam Sherpa.
The Everest expedition, probably the most difficult and most dangerous one can imagine, reflects well the hands-on-job, ready for action approach of the leadership of the Mirpuri Foundation.
The main goal of the Expedition was to analyze the repercussion of Climate Change in one of the most remote areas of our planet. Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up more than 1,5 degrees since the late 1800’s, and two thirds of that warming has taken place since 1975.
Of the roughly 198,000 glaciers on the planet, more than a quarter is found in the Himalayas. But even this remote location of ice and snow- home to nine of the world’s 10 highest peaks- is reeling from climate change. Many Himalayan glaciers are receding- and a new study of 32 glaciers around Mount Everest has found that those terminating in lakes have lost more ice mass than landlocked glaciers. That’s a worrying trend because many glacial lakes form behind unstable debris dams that are poised to collapse and send disastrous floods hurtling down valleys.
What has been possible to assess during the expedition could not be more worrying. The Khumbu Glacier is shrinking fast and the Khumbu Icefall is showing an higher frequency of rock and ice avalanches. The Icefall is migrating downhill a meter a day, and that is accelerating as temperature rise. Meltwater naturally pools on the surface of the Khumbu Glacier during the warmer months, then drains and reforms as the seasons change. The issue now is that the ponds don’t disappear, but instead coalesce into small lakes. Some studies we had access to during the expedition show that the ponds on the lower part of the Khumbu Glacier increased in size by 84% from 2009 to 2016. It’s a positive feedback cycle: a small pond absorbs more radiation than if would if it was rock, and that heats the water, which melts more ice, and the pond gets bigger and bigger. At some point, the side of one of the lakes may break, sending water and debris cascading down into the villages in the Khumbu Valley below. Imja Tsho, a large glacial lake in the Everest region, is located just above the Chukhung Valley, which has a number of villages we have passed thru, like Dingboche, and has been widely recognized for its potential to flood the valley below.
Himalayan glaciers are losing ice mass because of decreased snowfall and higher average air temperatures that melt existing ice. The landscape is primed for lake development. Bigger lakes may increase the risk of catastrophic dam failure.
Most of the glaciers in the Mount Everest region will disappear or drastically retreat as temperature increase with climate change over the next century. The estimated 5,500 glaciers in the Everest region could reduce their volume by 70% to 99% by 2100, with dire consequences for farming and hydropower generation downstream. Some glaciers around Everest had shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years with the snow line 180 meters higher than it was 50 years ago. The glaciers are disappearing faster every year, with some smaller glaciers now only half the size they were in the 1960’s. Traditional water springs have dried up, limiting the water supply. Farmer’s crops suffer from changing patterns of rainfall, which threatens the food security of the local people. Warmer temperatures and changing humidity have brought insect pests and disease to areas where they were previously absent.
But the climate change crisis is not affecting the glaciers only, but increasing the danger of extinction for some already endangered species.
Warming temperatures could cause over a third of the endangered Snow Leopards’ habitat to become uninhabitable. Climate change could cause the tree line to shift up the mountains and cause farmers to plant crops and graze livestock at higher altitudes, squeezing the snow leopards into smaller ranges where they are more likely to come into conflict with humans. The conversion of forest for agriculture and exploitation for timber, fodder and fuel wood threaten the biodiversity in this region. Charcoal production in the low elevation areas and intensive grazing at higher elevations also threatens forests. .
Conflict with communities in the high mountains, who see leopards as a threat to livestock and human lives, along with poaching, habitat loss and a reduction in numbers of prey have seen numbers of the snow leopard fall 20% in the last 16 years. With numbers as low as 4,000, snow leopards would face increasing pressure from climate change, which could reduce them to unsustainable numbers in many populations. The frequency of human-wildlife conflict increases as human populations grow and more land is cleared. Levels of conflict heighten and tolerance decreases when traditional practices are interrupted.
But the Snow Leopard is not he only victim in the slopes and valleys around Everest. The following species are also suffering:
- Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)- not endangered or threatened, but the only remaining member of the Hemitragus genus. They are not protected, in fact the governments are trying to limit their growth by poisoning and hunting them;
- Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus)- these bears roam along the base of Mount Everest and eat berries and occasionally small game. They are a nocturnal animal, they sleep in caves during the day and hibernate during the winter. Sadly, they have been declared a vulnerable species, due to hunting and deforestation;
- White bellied musk deer (Moschus leucogaster)- they are endangered due to overexploitation, and they are hunted because their musk is used in perfumes, as musk can be sold for 45.000 USD per Kilogram. Only males produce the musk, but females and young caught in snares anyway.
- Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)- these pandas are about the size of housecats. They live in the lower portions of the mountain and feed on leaves. They are threatened due to hunting and habitat loss.
More about this expedition here.
that we are doing
The Persian Leopard
In partnership with the Lisbon Zoo, the Mirpuri Foundation supports the reintroduction of the Persian Leopard into its natural habitat in the Caucasus. The Persian Leopard is a leopard subspecies found...