A lifelong climber and researcher at Appalachian State University has just completed a major project that will give us more information on climate change. Dr. Baker Perry was part of a recent expedition with National Geographic and other partners and helped install the world's highest automated weather station on Mount Everest. The trip took two months and looked at everything from glaciers to meteorology. Perry spoke with WFDD's Bethany Chafin.
On what these new weather stations will be able to tell us:
We have so few observations and so few weather stations above about 17,000 feet in the world, let alone in the Himalayas, but anywhere around the world, and there's some evidence to suggest that the highest elevations of our planet are warming and changing faster than other areas. And so this is called elevation-dependent warming, and so our observations will be compared with model data and satellite data and give us a better sense of how these extremely high elevations are actually changing.
We're also very interested in the behavior of the subtropical jet stream which is the river of air that intersects the Himalayas much of the year. And this is a critical player in the climate of South Asia and the Tibetan plateau. And these weather stations will provide our first detailed look at the behavior of the subtropical jet stream in this part of the world, and so we're very excited to see that. We have a great opportunity to evaluate the performance of numerical weather models, the forecast models. And this is an opportunity to improve the weather forecasts that are used to plan when climbers go to the summit and how long they're able to stay out. And this is ultimately something that can make the climbing safer up on Everest and other high peaks in the Himalayas.
On the team's MacGyver moment as they were installing the highest station:
Nearing the end of the installation as we were wrapping it up, we realized that two critical mounts — just small pieces of pipe that the wind sensors attached to — did not make it in the loads that came up to the Balcony that day. And we're sitting there and beating our heads against each other and like, 'this can't be.' Camp is not close enough where you can just run down and run back up ... so it was not an option just to send somebody back down to grab those; we didn't have time to do that and the physical effort involved would be substantial. So, I start looking around and seeing, 'Gosh, maybe, do we have something up here that that could serve that purpose?' We had one shovel with us, and it had a detachable handle. I said maybe this is something that could work. And sure enough the shovel handle was just about the right diameter, [the] same diameter as the pipe we needed .. so, it was a big sigh of relief that we could install those wind sensors because that was one of the most important variables that we wanted to measure.
On the celebratory photo taken after the installation was complete:
Yeah, I think the photo you're referring to is right before we started down. And you know, some of us — I think most of us — have our hands in the air kind of fist-pumping, and you can't see our smiles or any of our facial expressions because we have our goggles on, we have our oxygen mask, and so underneath those masks I think most of us are smiling. And it was a real sense of accomplishment ... and there were some obstacles along the way. To have it fully installed and for everything to be working was a great sense of accomplishment for sure, and I think that comes out in that photo.
Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.