Scientists in expedition to the Himalayas with Alex Txikon

  • An expedition to K2 of BC3 with the Basque mountaineer Alex Txikon studies the impact of climate change on the Himalayas
  • The study of the Baltoro Glacier will contribute to the understanding of the sensitivity debris-covered glaciers to climate change
  • Novel communication strategies for climate change to be assayed relying on the visibility of the expedition

Mountains, climate change and the BALELLUR project

Mountains are one of the ecosystems most affected by climate change. There are still many gaps in the understanding of climate change impact on nature, as well as to the contributions of nature to human life and well-being. This is especially true in remote, vulnerable mountain communities.

Climate change in mountainous regions is diverse and often extreme, and its impact is amplified by the barriers to adaptation faced by these communities. At the same time, mountain tourism is becoming a challenge for these areas, raising new problems related to garbage disposal and threatening the cultural identity of communities.

The multidisciplinary BALELUR Project aims to ascertain the effects of climate change on the region and to raise awareness about them, as well as to study the Karakoram Anomaly, an anomalous cooling experienced in this mountain range in summer believed to happen because of an exclusive atmospheric circulation system active in the region.

Picture of the expedition team of Alex Txikon with BC3 to the Karakoram range
Picture of the expedition team of Alex Txikon with BC3 to the Karakoram range

The project, spearheaded by the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), seeks to exploit the visibility generated by the expedition to underscore the problem of global warming through a series of pioneering initiatives, such as the use of solar panels and windmills to transmit the message that even an expedition must be sensitive to the problems of climate change.

The BC3, through the BALELUR Project, participates in mountaineer Alex Txikon’s WinterTopAppeal expedition to the summit of the K2 mountain, the second highest worldwide (8,611 m), only surpassed by Mt. Everest (8,848 m).

Scientific goals of the expedition

During the expedition, a BC3 researcher travelling together with Alex Txikon’s team is to conduct the experimental fieldwork: geophysical measurements, snow and soil sample collection at different heights, and more.

The scientific objectives of the mission include the determination of recent climate changes occurring in the glaciers and higher peaks of the Karakoram mountain range, attempting to estimate the human contribution to such changes.

View of the Baltoro Glacier in the central Karakoram/Karakorum range
View of the Baltoro Glacier in the central Karakoram/Karakorum range

Geopositioning, radiative and geomorphological measurements of a debris-covered glacier, the Baltoro Glacier will contribute to better understand the interactions between debris and ice. At over 60 km in length, the Baltoro glacier is one of the largest valley glaciers in the world and has been the subject of numerous studies. As a debris-covered glacier, its mass balance (balance between the loss and gain of ice) also depends on the properties of the present debris. The study of their interaction will lead to better understanding of the sensitivity of this glacier to climate change.

Samples will be taken from the Baltoro Glacier around the K2 Base Camp and from the K2 peak. Snow is to be sampled, for the subsequent chemical analysis of isotopes, aerosols, and of black carbon, a strong climate-warming component consisting of particulate matter arise from incomplete combustion of diverse fuels. Recent precipitation history in the region will be estimated from the sampled snow.

Cooperation towards the summit

The BALELUR project is an opportunity to better understand how local glacier ecosystems evolve. The joint science-mountaineering expedition is also an opportunity for snow sample collection at high altitude and for testing novel communication strategies about climate change.

Collaboration between mountaineers and scientists is key to accessing snow sample collection at high altitudes and ascertaining the impact of global climate change in these places. Thanks to this project, BC3 seeks to contribute to the knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change on this type of highly vulnerable ecosystem.

Image credits:

Image of the mountaineering expedition team was kindly provided by BC3.

Image of the Baltoro Glacier from the air was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, and licensed with a Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.