It’s a saying I used to have my students shout out in unison when they had the answer to a problem and would receive points for being the first ones done. I awarded extra points for enthusiasm and by the end of the semester they thought it was pretty funny or at least they were humoring me. It’s certainly true though that I’ve had a wonderful team this trip. Alina, Greta, and Jonathan have been tremendous and the HRE staff has been exceptional as always. It’s truly allowed us to accomplish a lot of work out here over the last couple weeks.
Today was the last day of the team together. Alina, Greta, and Jonathan will be taking off to see some of the areas finer attractions – Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp. So in order to give them very fond memories of the glacier, we spent 5 hours trekking all over the glacier with the GPR system. This takes a great deal of effort and a lot of hard work. I’m pretty sure we were all on our butts at one point and time as some of the best images come from areas of the glacier where there’s no debris (or very little). So we had a few laughs and a few nervous moments as we went sliding on the ice, but everyone kept their spirits up. In the end, it all paid off. From the previous 3 days, we got ~400 m of good transects simply. After reviewing the 3 previous days and coming up with a new strategy to hike in the “valleys” whenever possible, we were able to gather 600 – 800 m of good transects today. What a great day for them to go out on.
Now the camp becomes quite a bit quieter! They’ll all be missed as they were both solid workers and good company, but I’ll reconnect with them in Dingboche as we hike back to Lukla together. I wish I could join! The view of Everest from Kala Patthar is absolutely spectacular. A couple years ago I was able to catch sunset up there and it was one of the most memorable/beautiful sceneries I’ve ever witnessed. Hopefully the monsoon skies will clear enough while they’re there to give them a great view. As for me, I’ve got a couple days of fieldwork to finish up. I need to download all the data, finish off a little bit of dGPS and structure from motion work, and with any luck, I’ll have an extra day that I can go back to Lhotse. For now, it’s time to hop in the tent while the afternoon rains come and enjoy my 5th book of the trek. Have a good side trip guys! You definitely all deserve it.
PS: Happy Father’s Day! I confess that I had to look up, which day it was now that I am connected to wi-fi again, but Happy Father’s Day dad. I’ve said it before, but you’re certainly a big inspiration in my life and I’m incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful loving family with you, mom, and Anne. Hope you had a great day and can’t wait to hear all about your adventures when I get home.
The 1 a.m. wake-up call felt like it came a little too early this morning waking most of us from a sound sleep – oh wait, that was the group of climbers getting up to climb Island Peak and noisily asking on another where they were putting different pieces of gear and constantly flashing their headlamps over our tents. The good news is that they’re quite friendly and they summited, which is great, but boy what I would give to have a little bit of that sleep back! We already had an early wake-up planned for 5 a.m. as we’ve learned that the only way to be able to have complete days of work is beating the afternoon rains (unless you want to be soaked every afternoon).
Greta and Jonathan were getting a nice early start to their kayaking expeditions! After briefly catching up with them when I returned to camp this afternoon, it sounds like everything went incredibly well and sounds like an experience they’ll cherish for a long time. The comment was made that the icebergs near the calving front were like the Hoodoos in Utah – they are certainly are pretty magnificent. Thanks to my kayaking experts for their hard work. And I should note that for half the time Greta was the muscles and Jonathan became the brains!
Alina became the dGPS specialist today as we measured 28 different points, which we’ll use to help create the structure from motion digital elevation models. The dGPS can get a bit boring – at each point we level a tripod directly above the spray-painted mark on a boulder, then we measure the height of the antenna to the mark, then start recording the raw data, while also recording the RTK measured position (the raw data is backup in case we need further processing). After 5 minutes, we record the position and various additional information, and then repeat the same thing for the next ground control point. Khamal and Prokesh took a liking to helping set up the tripod, which was enjoyable and quite helpful. When we were grooving, we could get a point done about every 8 minutes. We ended up getting 28 points completed before the clouds rolled in and started messing up our views of the satellites, plus it started raining on us, which makes sitting around not very enjoyable. After the points were finished, I took a quick 475 photos of the area upwind of our wind tower for Structure from Motion, downloaded the most recent data from our weather station (it’s looking good!), and then scurried back up the lateral moraine back to camp.
All in all, today was an incredibly productive day and I hope everyone got some meaningful experience working with various pieces of equipment. I’ve got to hand it to Alina, Greta, and Jonathan, they are all very hard workers and help make my life much easier. It’s a solid team and hopefully tomorrow will be just as productive as today.
The bathymetric survey (survey of the lake’s depth) appears to have been a resounding success. With Jonathan as the muscles (paddler) and Greta as the brains (running the sonar system) things went quite well surveying the outlet lakes. The outlet lakes refer to the water that is on the terminal moraine and mark the transition from Imja Lake, the large body of water, to Imja Khola, the stream/river that the lake discharges to. Satellite imagery appears to suggest that these outlet lakes have been growing over the years, so we wanted to quantify any changes over the years. It was also a nice little test run having them stay relatively close to shore to make sure they knew how to operate the system and were comfortable navigating the kayak (but shhh don’t tell them that one!). Tomorrow, they’ll move up to the big leagues and perform a bathymetric survey on all of Imja Lake and hopefully obtain some depth measurements in the deeper sections of the lake. Only kidding, both today’s results and tomorrow’s will both be equally important.
Alina and I went to work with installing a pressure transducer to measure any changes in the lake level in addition to working on the dGPS data. Here we had a bit of a hiccup once again as the elevations associated with the dGPS appear to be consistently 40 m lower than those shown by our handheld GPS. This was a little concerning and when we measured the elevation of the outlet, it was confirmed that the elevations appear to be on the low end… The good news is that relatively speaking, the dGPS appears to give us centimetric accuracy. The bad news is that it would be wonderful if that were absolute. The next couple days we’ll work on trying to figure out the reason for this underestimation as it currently is quite mind-boggling. All in all, it was a good day of work with surprisingly nice weather.
First off, Happy Birthday Dad! Hope you’re recovering well and will be hitting the AT soon. My dad is the one who has inspired me to write this blog and is showing me the power of making your dreams a reality as he is hiking the AT this year. I’ve always thought he would absolutely love trekking up here and hopefully one day I can make that dream happen. We usually try to hike/camp together once a summer and they are some wonderful memories and a time that I cherish. Hope you’re having a wonderful day Dad!
Besides the excitement of being my dad’s birthday, today was a bit of a rollercoaster. Today split the middle with some good highlights and arguably my lowest point of the trip so far. Research is exactly that – research. During the months of preparation, it’s great to build the excitement of the trip, especially while testing equipment to think of what-if scenarios. One of the biggest what-if scenarios that I was excited for were these GPR transects over the glacier such that we could validate or improve modeling estimates that I’ve been using the past year (the “T” on my keyboard just fell off… it’s just one of those days to laugh at).
Today was our 3rd day of GPR on the glacier. In my dream world, we would be finishing up our transects, have this wonderful dataset that I’d rejoice over back in the States, and be moving on to the next task. The low point came half-way through the day when all of the sudden the ToughBook computer started malfunctioning. When I say malfunctioning I mean the LabView program that I use to record the GPR transects began to minimize/maximize every 3 seconds… there the frustrations began. I called for everyone to stop walking, so I could try and figure it out, but with it opening and closing so frequently it was painful just trying to stop our current transect! Once that was done, I realized that I had no control of the mouse. I would control it for 2 seconds and then it would skip over to the bottom right of the laptop. Now a bit of background on this laptop – the keyboard doesn’t really work, e.g., you hit the “P” key and the laptop enters a “1”. Suffice it to say, that after 10 minutes of restarting the computer, changing the batteries, and trying various things my patience was completely gone. That dream dataset that I had envisioned was beginning to look like our GPR work was finished due to the malfunctioning laptop and with this came a great deal of disappointment. I may have hollered at the top of my lungs for a second to let out some frustrations, which I later apologized to my team members for, and they just laughed and thought it was funny looking back. The strangest thing happened though… as soon as I let it out, the ToughBook started working again. I was dumbfounded and ecstatic and simply laughed at the situation (apologized to my teammates) and then back to climbing all over the debris we went!
So the day was a bit of a rollercoaster as the GPR system was acting up. Half the transects worked, half look like they’ll be difficult to interpret. It seems that there are way to many obstacles and objects that interfere with the signal and a great deal of our walking is along the ridges to avoid bare ice faces and melt ponds, which likely does not work well with the GPR signal. There’s a steep learning curve figuring out what works and what doesn’t, but that’s all part of the research. At lunch we sat about 150 m behind the calving front on the side of a ridge. There was a stream gushing with glacial melt water only 50 m away from us. The misty rain had cleared and we were able to relax. It was one of those moments to laugh at the frustrations, realize these are all moments to learn from, and enjoy our office with a view for the day. Tomorrow we’ll shift gears to conduct some bathymetric surveys of the lake. There’s not much to it besides getting in the inflatable kayak, hooking up the sonar system, and paddling. Jonathan and Greta have expressed a great deal of interest in this, so I’ll teach them how to work the equipment and let them experience the excitement of paddling at 5000 m. After all, this should be a fun learning experience for us all.
The plan today was to return to Lhotse Glacier to assess many of the sites we viewed yesterday and take measurements when appropriate. We got onto the glacier around 8:30 a.m. and it was just as impressive as yesterday. The large bare ice faces, the ice bridges, the undercutting of the ice, the old water lines, the empty channels that were produced by the flood, all these different aspects of the glacier were just remarkable. Alton was heading up the left lateral moraine today to see if he could take some good panoramas and spot any large supraglacial lakes that may have drained as part of the flood and/or causing the flood. Our plan was to go back to the initial breach areas where the flood appeared to begin (from Elizabeth’s video) and see if we could see the englacial conduits or anything of that nature that may help improve our understanding of what happened.
As we moved along the glacier things were quite exciting. Besides your typical bare ice faces, we observed a channel that appeared to be draining directly from the ice, i.e., we appeared to have found our first englacial conduit. We continued walking around the corner, which brought us to one of the newly formed channels, which was filled with large boulders and on our left side was glacier that had been undercut by the flood. This undercutting was about 5-10 ft tall and quite long – granted none of us even thought about standing underneath it in case it collapsed! We eventually followed this channel to where the initial breaches occurred. I went up pretty close to the ice faces and observed a little cave, which perhaps was a small conduit that triggered one of the initial breaches and then found a little crevasse in the ice of the second. The third breach was quite interesting as it was just a large bare ice face, which when we observed the valley above seemed to have had massive amounts of water flowing down it – where that water may have come from still remained a mystery.
At this point and time we thought we were finished as we had originally planned to just survey these few areas and then head back to our camp at Imja. Laxmi and I decided we’d wonder a bit further and catch up with the others up ahead on the lateral moraine. As we started walking though, Laxmi told me he remembered there being a big glacial lake a little ways away last year… obviously, I was interested in seeing if it was still there! As we continued trekking along the glacier we passed areas of clean ice, hopped over a little glacier crevasse, saw little ponds of silt, which typically indicate a pond used to be there at some point and time. After an hour of this, I was starting to get pretty exhausted scrambling over the glacier and was beginning to think about lunch a couple hours away in camp, when we found a rather large supraglacial lake! Interestingly enough, this supraglacial lake appeared to have drained by 10-15 ft. As we continued walking along, we then found another! We also found drainage holes, some of ice large enough that you could enter, some that appeared to have caved in, but perhaps we were on to something! Truly fascinating stuff!
Shortly thereafter it began to rain fairly hard, so we took that as our sign that it was time to get to camp. My Gore-Tex gear was supposed to keep my dry, but after 1.5 hrs of getting rained on, my light shell and shirt underneath began to get a little damp. I guess I can’t complain too much as it is the monsoon here! We finally got into camp just after 2:00 p.m. Tired, hungry, wet, and cold, but loaded with excitement of what me might have found. This flood has been an interesting side-project because we hadn’t planned for it at all. The causes of the flood are largely unknown, so climbing all over the glacier and making various observations is really like trying to piece a puzzle together. Good thing I enjoy a good puzzle! I’m excited to see how our findings line up with Alton’s and also to do a bit more work and comparisons with satellite imagery once we get back to the States. For now though, it’s time to get dry and warm again in my tent as the rain continues to fall. Tomorrow we’re back on the glacier and it’s time to finish off everything we came here to accomplish!
After a great day of rest, which actually had very little time to simply rest, we left Dingboche and headed back to Chukung for the night. The flooding from two days ago has completely subsided back to its typical levels. After an early lunch we took a 3 hour hike around Lhotse to get a sense of the changes. There was a great deal of exposed bare ice and large sections of the glacier had been undercut by the flood waters. It was quite fascinating to see. Along the way, we also came across many sandy/silty ponded areas with holes that may have contributed to the flood. Additionally, on the surface behind the main flood areas were large scars that had uprooted some of the vegetation and shifted fairly large boulders. It was very interesting to see these aspects. We also returned to the initial breach site and walking through the flood channel got a unique view of the magnitude of the flood.
Today was mainly to get our bearings. Not to mention that all of our equipment was still in our camp – we were only planning on a quick rest day in Chukung with a short hike back and forth from Dingboche for the community meeting after all! Tomorrow, we have some of our equipment coming down from the camp, which will allow us to take some measurements on our way back to our camp at Imja. Alton is planning on staying behind a day to walk the lateral moraines and identify any larger melt ponds upglacier that may have drained. I hope to spend some extra time on my way back down from Imja after our fieldwork is finished, but for the time being we still need to finish up our intended work! It’s turning into a bit of a juggling act trying to re-arrange our itinerary, but truly a fascinating event to be able to study.
Once again, fair warning to not be alarmed by the lack of updates! Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading off the grid once again for a little over a week, but will post a bunch as soon as I get back!
Today was truly a great day. I started the day being able to talk to my parents, which was great to hear how everything’s going. Sounds like a whole lot is going on with Anne, my sister, and her fiancé, Pat, which was very exciting to hear. Shortly thereafter, I was able to observe a focus group meeting that was led by Milan. It was truly fascinating to see how the social sciences work even if it was mostly in Nepali! Everyone was very engaged and it seemed like a great discussion and some great activities. As always, I’m eager to hear how the rest of his work goes on this trip. The blending of the physical sciences with the social sciences brings to life the relevancy of our work and in the afternoon we were actually able to sit down and have a 3 hr discussion about what was going on with Imja Lake and also answer questions regarding the flood from yesterday. It was a great experience and it was an honor to be a part of it.
By the time the meetings ended, it was already 4:00 p.m. Elizabeth had some wonderful footage of the flood from yesterday that she allowed me to make a short video to share with people. Unfortunately, I have a max 10 MB upload on this website, but if you’re interested it’s on Facebook. It was enjoyable to put together and was really some incredible footage that she captured. Afterwards, I got one gigantic treat… a hot shower! After not showering for 12 days besides the washing water each morning, it felt pretty darn good to be clean. The evening was spent catching up on work and emails and enjoying the company of the large group. It’s been fun to have so many people around, but definitely looking forward to getting back to work on the glaciers! Tomorrow, we’ll head up to Chukung where we’ll survey Lhotse Glacier to see if we can gain anymore insight into the cause of the flood yesterday. It should be very exciting and is an interesting side project that we should be able to squeeze in.
I expected today to be a long day, but had no idea how exhausted I was actually going to be by the end of it. We were on the glacier by 8:00 a.m. to finish off the GPR transect from two days ago and then perform another transect across the width of the glacier, batteries permitting of course! This was the third time that we deployed the GPR, so the setup went very smoothly and we had finished both by 11:30 a.m. This was great news because it meant that we were able to get back for a nice hot lunch – always a treat. We took a 45 minute break for lunch and then hopped on the trail back to Chukung. Unfortunately, we were walking into quite the detour.
Lhotse glacier had what we are currently referring to as a englacial conduit flood. Alton and Elizabeth happened to be on the lateral moraine of Lhotse glacier on their way to Chukung when the flood originated. The videos that Elizabeth took were absolutely remarkable and fortunately, everyone in Chukung was safe. The video shows a series of landslides that released a large amount of water causing a debris flow to occur (debris flow is simply when the water entrains a great deal of sediment, rocks, boulders, etc.). The flood continued to grow until it threatened the lodge we had previously stayed at in Chukung. When we arrived at the typical crossing at 3:00 p.m. the flood had supposedly died down quite a bit, but was still rather massive. We ended up having to take an hour detour over an ice bridge (literally a place on the glacier where the flood had carved into the ice and was going underneath the glacier such that we could walk above the flood on the debris-covered glacier).
It was truly fascinating to actually witness a flood from a glacier. A similar event had occurred last year, but to actually see the power of this event was something I will always remember. While this is type of flood is not directly what I’ve been studying for the last 4 years, it was a very eye-opening experience and one that I hope to investigate further in the coming days and once we return to the States. By the time we finished the detour and got to Chukung it was already 4:00 p.m. We made the decision that due to the threat of this flood and its proximity to the lodge we were planning on staying at that we were going to continue down to Dingboche… another 1.5 hrs of hiking after this already long and exhausting day.
The good news was that we took an hour rest in Chukung to rest, have some tea and soup, and re-connect with the grid! It feels a little odd being so happy for having internet, especially when faced with the fact that there was a flood going on outside only 100 yards away, but after 8 days in the field, being able to send a few emails was quite a treat. The treats kept pouring in as I was hiking down to Dingboche and was able to get a couple bars of cell phone service to talk to Leigh. Eventually, I had to cut the call short because it was getting dark and the fog had rolled in, so I figured it would be better to get into the lodge with the last bit of daylight.
The lodge felt like a big reunion and there was certainly a lot of buzz going on about the flood. One good thing was that the people in Chukung realized that the flood had originated from Lhotse and was not actually a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF, which is what I study) from Imja Lake; therefore, they did not sound the early warning systems, which would literally have members of downstream communities running up to the hills to be out of the flood plains. At the lodge, I also got to reconnect with Milan, who is leading the social science portion of our project, and it was great to catch up with him and hear how everything is going. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to sit on a focus group session that he is holding, which will truly be fascinating to see this other dimension of our work. After an hour of catching up and eating some hot fried rice, we were all utterly exhausted and departed for the comfort of an actual bed! I will sleep well tonight that is for sure.
Today was our seventh day at Imja and was set in the schedule as a rest day. Plus, our 12V battery charger has decided to stop working, so we needed the day to charge the batteries from a solar panel – thankfully I was a nice sunny day! Working a altitude obviously takes a lot of energy, but the cold conditions also make one susceptible to getting the “Khumbu cough”. After many days up here, the cold dry air that one breathes throughout the day and also at night dries out your throat and along comes an annoying cough. The easiest way to avoid this is by keeping your throat and mouth covered with a buff. The only problem with his is it can be annoying to get used to as it feels like it restricts your breathing and constantly fogs your glasses. Anyways, it’s important to stay healthy and avoid this cough, so a lot of warm liquids and a scheduled day of rest was in order.
Sometimes I wish I could heed my own advice and rest, but I woke up this morning and re-did the schedule of the remaining work and felt a little bit behind. Therefore, I set off with Khamal this morning initially intending to just set up a time-lapse camera. The camera is a low-cost hunting camera (that we have the proper permits for) that will be used to photograph the calving front of Imja Lake. After a year, not only should it provide a stunning series of the calving, but will also provide us with a lot of useful information regarding the size and rate of calving events (when the lake undercuts the glacier ice and the ice falls into the lake). Once we installed the camera, I realized that it was a perfectly sunny day that shouldn’t go to waste, so I went to our automatic weather station and took a lot of photographs (475 to be exact) of the terrain in front of the wind tower. A technique called Structure from Motion will be used to take these photos and generate a model of the terrain in front of the weather station. I can then use this digital elevation model (DEM) to develop methods of how the surface roughness relates to the aerodynamic roughness, which is currently being measured by our wind tower.
I returned to our camp by 11:00 a.m., so still had plenty of time to rest such that I stay healthy and don’t burn out. Back at camp I was in for a pleasant surprise as Alton Byers was waiting in the dining tent talking with Greta, Jonathan, and Alina. His wife Elizabeth and many Nepali students who were joining them came and joined us shortly thereafter as they had been out walking along the lateral moraine to check out the glacier and the glacial lake. I have spent a good deal of time with both Alton and Elizabeth in the field and it’s always a treat to see them. Alton and Elizabeth lived in Nepal for many years and have a tremendous wealth of experience and knowledge to impart on anyone who is willing to listen. One of my favorite memories with them was when we were trekking from Deboche to Dingboche on our way up to Imja and the entire way up they pointed out the various flora and fauna in addition to some snow leopard scat. Along the way, we stopped at one of Alton’s repeat photograph points and they described how the landscape has changed over the years. They have a way of giving the trail a new life, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s great to spend some time with them.
After lunch, I took the afternoon to rest in my tent, albeit while processing the photos to see how things turned out. The actual processing will likely take weeks, but in 3 hours I was able to generate a sparse point cloud and it appears that the 475 photographs covered the terrain quite well, so that was a relief! Now it’s time to shut down the laptop and head to dinner and enjoy the influx of some new faces and good stories!
Well it was only a matter of time until we experienced the beginning of the monsoon. We woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground. Jonathan said around 2:00 a.m. it was raining quite a bit, so eventually that rain turned to snow. Fortunately for us, we had clear skies all morning, which melted the snow quickly and allowed us to get on the glacier and do our first GPR transect.
The start of the GPR was quite interesting. The upper portion of Lhotse-Shar Glacier is covered with bare ice faces that melt so rapidly that there are englacial streams flowing downglacier. Many of these ice faces were greater than 50 m high and similarly the amount of flow in the glacial streams was quite impressive. This all made finding a safe route through the center of the glacier a bit difficult, but Laxmi made it happen! We had picked a route from the lateral moraine of Lhotse-Shar Glacier, but when we got closer we found that there was a large glacier stream (~2.5 m wide) in our way. This is when having our wonderful staff is a life-saver because instead of finding an alternative route, which would have cut off a decent amount of the GPR transect, they took some big boulders and added them to boulders already in the stream to create a bridge for us – impressive!
The actual GPR work can be a bit comical and frustrating. The key is getting everyone to walk at the exact same pace such that the antennas are all properly spaced. The transmitter and receiver each have 2 antenna (or half antenna that create the full antenna) that are 5 m long and extend out both directions with the transmitter or receiver in the center. Additionally, there is a 5 m long piece of webbing between the end of the transmitter’s antenna and the start of the receiver’s antenna. We walk along the glacier in a line with 6 people – Laxmi led the way holding the transmitter’s front antenna, Greta walked with the transmitter in between the transmitter’s antenna, Jonathan followed holding the end of the transmitter’s back antenna and the front of the 5 m piece of webbing, Kamal was behind him holding the front of the receiver’s antenna, I was walking with the receiver and the laptop to ensure we were getting a good signal, and Alina was behind me holding the end of the receiver’s rear antenna. Plus, Prokesh and Adite carried our extra gear (batteries, etc.) and lunch as well. After a rocky start (pun intended), we found our rhythm and walked for 2.5 hrs along the debris-covered glacier of Lhotse-Shar. The first bit of processing appears that things came out quite nicely, which is a great sign.