A Pyramid on Everest, Caught within the Balance
A number of weeks ago, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa attended a movie screening for Ningwasum, an Indigenous sci-fi film that imagines a future by which Himalayan peoples are centered and empowered fairly than marginalized.
But inside that story set in the longer term, she immediately recognized something from each her present and her past: the Pyramid International Laboratory and Observatory. Covered in solar panels and tucked among the many rocks and snow of the Himalayas, the Pyramid is a decades-old atmospheric research facility that has change into a form of place marker for communities in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley. Sherpa included a few of the Pyramid’s history in her PhD dissertation in 2012.
“The Pyramid in that movie becomes a backdrop to assume a sovereign Indigenous future,” Sherpa, who’s an assistant professor within the Department of Asian Studies and Critical Indigenous Studies on the University of British Columbia, said in an interview with GlacierHub. “I feel it [would be] a really interesting way of using the Pyramid, by people from the region to assume a future for themselves, and of themselves.”
But while the film imagines the Pyramid of the longer term, scientists and international research organizations have struggled to do the identical. What was once certainly one of the region’s most distinguished research centers for high-altitude science and climate monitoring has drastically reduced its output for the higher a part of the last decade, with only one worker keeping basic monitors running.
Constructed in 1990 as a partnership with Italy’s National Research Council and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, the Pyramid — also often called EV-K2-CNR — has captured local weather data for a long time. As well as, it served as a hub for air pollution monitoring in addition to a base from which to conduct biodiversity research and conservation efforts, amongst other long-term projects.
Despite the station’s placement on the mountain, Sherpa notes that local residents weren’t involved in its development or siting; the primary materials arrived on the mountain with little to no Indigenous input, sidelining potential community suggestions or support from the beginning. Still, she says that the Pyramid was once a source of livelihood, and propelled the few local people employed by the station to prominence in the world.
“The individuals who were employed had source of income, but additionally were getting the form of training that they might otherwise not get easily,” she explained. “So, the experiences they got on the Pyramid station are actually actually helping the community utilize that knowledge at the upper community leadership role.”
All told, researchers based within the Pyramid station were involved in greater than 500 scientific missions, collaborating with 148 different institutions and greater than 200 researchers. Published research out of the station ranges from the behavior of regional brown clouds to the human immune system’s response to high altitude exposure. But in 2014, the Italian National Research Council shifted priorities and pulled much of its funding from the Pyramid, shifting the burden of economic support onto its partners in Nepal in addition to private donors.
Miriam Jackson, program coordinator of the Cryosphere Initiative on the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development based in Kathmandu, told GlacierHub it is a common pattern for high-altitude monitoring stations. “The initial cost of putting up a station is sort of minor compared with the long-term commitment over the lifetime of the station,” she explained. “It’s like with all the pieces else — you’ve to take care of it.”
That balancing act between sustaining each interest and research budgets becomes increasingly difficult from 12 months to 12 months.
“It’s so much more exciting to place [a station] in and work on it for several years. But then to maintain on maintaining it for a couple of more years, the thrill level drops,” Jackson said. “If there’s changes in the federal government budget on the Italian side, once that budget drops and also you lose that funding, it’s very hard to get it going again.”
Maintaining a high-altitude weather station is not any walk in the park. The character of the terrain in addition to local infrastructure means moving equipment within the region may take days, and will require expensive transport like helicopters. Heavy rainstorms or landslides can delay these journeys even further. Solar radiation at high altitudes can damage equipment more quickly, and require more specialized materials. Plus, the work itself may be strenuous — especially at an altitude of over 5,000 meters.
“The federal government departments have a variety of responsibility, and they may not necessarily just have enough personnel, or have personnel with the correct skills, to go around and do that work,” Jackson said. “They don’t have the resources that many other countries do.”
Among the elements that make these stations so difficult to take care of are precisely what makes their data so precious — not only to scientists inquisitive about climate change, but additionally to residents concerned about its immediate impacts. Himalayan glaciers supply drinking water for nearly 2 billion people, and glacial melt may result in more flooding in downstream villages.
Scott Williamson, a Canadian cryosphere researcher working with Polar Knowledge Canada, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that monitoring stations just like the Pyramid are a window to understanding how high-altitude glaciers will change.
“There are a bunch of things on our planet which are warming faster than average, and it seems that prime elevation is certainly one of them,” he said. Elevation-dependent warming is certainly one of the aspects pushing Himalayan glaciers to melt.
These glaciers, that are positioned at each high altitude and low latitude, are unique in that they fall into a variety of the atmosphere where precipitation can occur. Before anthropogenic climate change, snowfall onto these glaciers was relatively unusual. Nevertheless, because the planet warms, the capability for the atmosphere to carry water vapor increases. This may result in more snowfall onto these glaciers, and offers a technique for them to achieve mass back from melting.
“So, we all know we’re increasing each — we all know we’re increasing precipitation, we all know we’re increasing melt,” Williamson said. “The query for the health of the glaciers is: which one is doing the driving? Is it melting faster than it’s increasing in precipitation?”
By keeping track of changes to atmospheric water vapor concentrations on Mount Everest, Williamson explained that the Pyramid station provides a baseline for understanding the precipitation-melt interaction on glaciers.
Pasang Yangjee Sherpa points out that there are likely many research questions which have gone unasked through the years, which the Pyramid could still contribute to answering. And he or she believes the local Indigenous community could form a crucial a part of that possibility.
“Has anyone considered gifting the Pyramid to the local people, who’ve been caring for it and living with it because it was installed a few years ago?” she asked. Sherpa sees a chance to re-envision the station as a site for more locally driven investigation and research. She notes that local interests may vary, but some are prone to align with existing economic livelihoods. This includes more specific weather predictions geared towards the tourism industry, or higher understanding rainfall patterns which will affect local crop yields.
“Now that we now have this structure, which the Sherpas have been living with for a long time, what can we do with it in order that we will produce responsible science?” she said. “What would the brand new form of science that’s creative, that’s modern, and that addresses the actual challenge of today appear to be? And the way does EV-K2-CNR propel us to try this?”
Partnerships with climate scientists and Indigenous peoples are already underway in multiple continents, from weather forecasting in Tanzania to assessing ice loss in Alaska to fireside management practices in Australia. This sort of scientific collaboration has been shown to profit each parties.
Ultimately, the primary few a long time of the Pyramid’s history tell the story of a trailblazing station that was the primary of its kind — one which provided great value to the region and world, but proved to be depending on the goodwill of foreign funders. Because it shifts right into a latest chapter of its history, scientists and research agencies alike may recognize that something much closer to home — the Indigenous community of Sherpas — offers promising potential for a latest, modern purpose.