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Mystery solved: Why Mount Everest makes terrifying sounds at night

The majestic and awe-inspiring Mount Everest has long been a source of fascination for scientists, climbers, and adventure-seekers alike. Yet, one of its most mysterious and unsettling features has remained relatively unexplored. After sunset, eerie noises erupt from the high-altitude glaciers surrounding the mountain’s peak.

Led by glaciologist Evgeny Podolskiy, an expert at the Arctic Research Center in Hokkaido University, an international team of researchers embarked on an expedition to the Nepalese Himalayas in 2018 to investigate the cause of these terrifying nocturnal sounds. Their groundbreaking research reveals that the sharp drops in temperature that occur after dark are responsible for the chorus of crashing and splintering noises within the glaciers around Mount Everest.

To unravel this mystery, Dr. Podolskiy and his team spent more than a week trekking through the Himalayas, ultimately reaching the Trakarding-Trambau Glacier system, where they set up camp and began their investigations. Over the course of three weeks, the scientists endured the bone-chilling cold of the glacier, positioned at an altitude of three miles above sea level and in full view of the 29,000-feet-tall Mount Everest.

During their time on the glacier, Dr. Podolskiy and his team had the opportunity to experience the eerie noises firsthand. Dave Hahn, an experienced expedition leader who has completed 15 Everest summits, described the unsettling experience of hearing the bizarre noises at night, which included “ice and rock crashing down in various places around the valley.” Hahn added, “It’s tough to sleep.”

The researchers installed sensors on the ice to measure vibrations deep within the glacier. This is the same technology that is used to gauge the magnitude of earthquakes. Upon analyzing the seismographic data, Dr. Podolskiy and his colleagues were finally able to confirm that the booming nocturnal sounds were indeed linked to the extreme cold.

During the daytime, the scientists could work comfortably in t-shirts, as temperatures were relatively mild. However, once night fell, the mercury could plummet to as low as five degrees Fahrenheit. It was during these frigid nighttime hours that Dr. Podolskiy and his team heard “this loud boom” and observed that “our glacier is bursting, or exploding with cracks at night.”

In their study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers noted that the “local ice turns out to be very sensitive to this high rate of change.” Their findings represent some of the first evidence of such extensive seismic activity resulting from thermal fracturing within the ice. 

The research not only contributes to our understanding of the behavior of glaciers but also builds upon the growing body of knowledge about the impact of climate change on these critical Earth systems.

As the planet continues to warm, it becomes increasingly important to study and understand the behavior of glaciers in remote regions like the Himalayas, which contain some of the largest ice reserves on Earth. 

The work of Dr. Podolskiy and his team has opened a new window into the enigmatic world of high-altitude glaciers, offering valuable insights that can help glaciologists and climate experts better comprehend and respond to the challenges posed by our changing environment.

More about glacial ice melt in the Himalayas 

The Himalayan region, often referred to as the “Third Pole” because it holds the largest reserve of fresh water outside the polar regions, is experiencing significant changes due to global warming. The glaciers in this region are a crucial source of water for millions of people, supplying the major rivers of Asia. However, these life-sustaining glaciers are under threat as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift.

Research indicates that the rate of glacial melt in the Himalayas has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades. This accelerating melt rate is attributed primarily to anthropogenic climate change, specifically the increase in greenhouse gas emissions which drives global warming.

The consequences of glacial melt are multi-faceted and far-reaching. Immediately, an increase in meltwater can lead to the formation of glacial lakes, which can cause devastating outburst floods. These floods pose a significant risk to communities living downstream and can lead to loss of life and property.

In the longer term, however, the primary concern is the potential for water scarcity. The Himalayan glaciers act as natural water storage, releasing meltwater in the warmer months when precipitation is lower, and thereby providing a consistent water supply.

As these glaciers shrink, this natural form of water storage is diminished, potentially leading to water shortages during the dry season. This can have serious implications for agriculture, hydropower, and overall water security in the region.

Moreover, glacial melt can also contribute to sea-level rise. Though the contribution of Himalayan glaciers to global sea-level rise is much smaller compared to polar ice melt, it still plays a part in this global concern.

Understanding the behavior and response of Himalayan glaciers to climate change is vital for developing effective strategies to manage water resources and mitigate disaster risks. This requires comprehensive monitoring and research, like the work carried out by Dr. Evgeny Podolskiy and his team.

Efforts to slow down global warming through reducing greenhouse gas emissions are critical to preserving these glaciers. The situation in the Himalayas underscores the urgent need for global climate action to safeguard our planet’s future.

Consequences of Glacial Ice Melt in the Himalayas

The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas has far-reaching consequences for the people, wildlife, and ecosystems in the region. Some of these consequences include:

Water resources

The accelerated melting of glaciers can lead to an initial increase in river flows, potentially causing flooding in downstream areas. Over time, however, as glaciers continue to shrink, river flows are expected to decrease, threatening the water supply for millions of people who rely on the rivers for drinking water, agriculture, and hydroelectric power.

Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs)

As glaciers melt, they can form glacial lakes that are often dammed by unstable moraine material. The collapse of these natural dams can result in catastrophic flooding, causing significant damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and human lives.

Biodiversity loss

Rapid changes in water availability and temperature can have severe effects on the region’s delicate ecosystems. Species that depend on cold-water habitats, such as the snow leopard and the Himalayan tahr, may face habitat loss and population declines.

Impacts on communities

The livelihoods of many communities in the Himalayas depend on agriculture, which is heavily reliant on glacial meltwater. The changes in water availability can lead to reduced agricultural productivity, threatening food security and exacerbating poverty.

Given the critical importance of the Himalayan glaciers for water resources, biodiversity, and human communities, it is vital to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies to reduce the impacts of glacial ice melt.


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