Chinese researchers reached the top of Qomolangma on Wednesday. They installed the world’s highest automatic weather station at an altitude of 8,800 meters to study the effects of climate change on the environment of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.
The feat allowed Chinese scientists to directly collect data for the first time from the summit of the world’s highest mountain, known as Mount Everest in the West.
The scientific expedition team said it also marked a crucial milestone in China’s second comprehensive scientific expedition to the plateau, which began in 2017.
Collecting and studying data from Qomolangma, at 8,849 meters above sea level. Its surroundings will yield valuable insight into the condition of local glaciers and mountain snow, which have been the water source for over ten major rivers in Asia that nurture more than 2.5 billion people, the journal Science of the Total Environment reported.
It will also help scientists monitor and understand the global monsoon system and other important weather mechanisms so experts and policymakers can make informed decisions regarding climate change, biodiversity preservation, and sustainable development.
At 12:46 pm on Wednesday, 12 researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research and other institutions reached the top of Qomolangma, where they drilled an ice core and measured the thickness of the thickness the ice sheet using high definition radar.
Yao Tandong, a noted glaciologist, and leader of the expedition said Chinese scientists established eight weather stations from 5,200 to 8,800 meters above sea level as they traveled up the mountain.
Four of the stations were set up at an altitude higher than 7,000 meters. The installation at 8,800 meters is the world’s highest automatic weather station; he told Xinhua News Agency.
This year, scientists will use advanced technologies to examine the changing environments and ecosystems on the mountain and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and study the effects of human activity and climate change on the region, Yao said.
Since the mid-20th century, China has launched multiple research expeditions to Qomolangma, but due to limited resources and technologies, most of the studies were done at an altitude of around 5 to 6 kilometers, and there was hardly any environmental data from above 8 kilometers, he said.
As a result, many key scientific questions were left unanswered, such as whether global warming can melt the ice at the top of Qomolangma and how biodiversity, the ecosystem, and the composition of air pollutants can change as altitude increases to extreme heights.
China launched its first large-scale scientific expedition in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in 1973 to explore and record the characteristics of the region, Yao said. The second expedition aims to build on that foundation and figure out how these features change over time.
Climbing Qomolangma is a critical objective for the second expedition. Yao said they had organized a massive party consisting of 16 teams and over 270 scientists and personnel to tackle this mission, some of whom trained for more than two decades for the undertaking.
He said that the party is also equipped with the most advanced scientific instruments available, which is a far cry from the first major scientific expedition decades ago. “In the past, the three most commonly used tools for students were rock picks, compasses, and notebooks. Only instructors could use cameras and barometers.”
Yao said that researchers have access to drones, crewless surface vehicles, weather balloons, airships, and even helicopters.
With the new equipment, strong government support, and decades of hard work by scientists, China has become a global front-runner in glaciology, climate change, and ecological studies related to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau Yao said.
“As our research continues, I believe we will have more discoveries and developments to share with the world,” he said.
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