Mera Alpine Conservation Group Meeting and Tam Pokhari GPR May 2012

Nepal May 2012 Glacial Lake Research Expedition

During May of 2012, a HiMAP team made a detailed GPR survey of several glacial lakes in the Hinku and Imja valleys (just east of Ama Dablam in the Khumbu).

Click above to see a short video about the lakes followed by HiMAP’s discussions in the village of Tagnag, downstream. Photography is by Kate Voss and Chris Rainier; editing by Daene McKinney. (During 2012 HiMAP was known as the High Mountains Glacier Watershed Program, or HMGWP.)

Below is Kate Voss’s blog entry about what you'll see in the video:

Day 9: A Busy Day In Tagnag

Our day in Tagnag proved to be quite eventful with a GPR survey of the nearby Tam Pokhari lake (responsible for the 1998 GLOF), as well as a productive meeting with the Mera Alpine Conservation Group (MACG). The GPR survey of the moraine holding back Tam Pokhari involved four traverses of the moraine with two different antennae, and provides excellent data of the moraine and its composition. Additionally, the team identified potential and triggers, including several massive hanging glaciers high above the lake that could fall into the lake and cause a wave that would rush over the moraine and result in a flood. This was our second full GPR field survey, and was great practice for our upcoming 4-day survey at Imja Lake in the Khumbu. With each survey, we become more efficient maneuvering the equipment across the moraine and developing a “first-look” analysis of the danger of the lake. Who you ‘gonna call? The GLOF-Busters!

After the Tam Pokhari survey, we met with the MACG to learn about their main objectives for the upcoming year and to establish a cooperative arrangement between the community and The Mountain Institute. During the meeting, we had the opportunity to share our first-look analysis of both Tam Pokhari and Dudh Pokhari. The community appreciated that people from outside their valley were interested and aware of the danger of the lakes, and the MACG was very receptive to develop solutions to reduce damage from these floods. The community members were also interested and supportive of a return visit to the lake for further analysis that would involve a bathymetry survey and additional GPR.

With the initial GPR data in hand and the positive connection with the local community, our expedition team was ecstatic about the successful day in Tagnag!

Below Daene McKinney's explanation of the upcoming HiMAP expedition to the Hinku Valley, you’ll find daily blog entries from Kate Voss.

To read Alton Byers’ paper “Contemporary Human Impacts On Subalpine And Alpine Ecosystems Of The Hinku Valley, Makalu-Barun National Park And Buffer Zone, Nepal,” click here.

High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program Begins New Field Reconnaissance Of Potentially Dangerous Glacial Lakes In Nepal, by Daene McKinney

As temperatures have warmed over recent decades, the Nepal Himalayas have seen an increasing threat of glacial lake outburst floods.  Several lakes formed at the base of receding glaciers have been identified as exceptionally dangerous due to the unstable condition of their moraine dams that hold back the glacial melt.  Following on the September 2011 Andean-Asian Glacial Lake Expedition to Imja Lake, the High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program is returning to Nepal this spring to complete their field reconnaissance of potentially dangerous lakes in Nepal (Thulagi Lake near Anapurna, Tam Pokhari and Dudh Pokhari Lakes in the Hinku Valley) and to conduct field surveys and meetings with local community leaders regarding the threat posed by Imja Lake in the Imja Khola Valley. … READ MORE HERE

Day 1: Escaping Kathmandu. The following blog is mostly by Kate Voss

Greetings from the Social Media Team! After a few hot, smoggy, and productive days preparing for the upcoming 30 day expedition, it is with great excitement and anticipation that we are finally able to announce our departure from the ‘Du. SIKE! Turns out our well-placed plans were countered with unexpected high winds and clouds in Lukla.  After six hours waiting patiently in the Kathmandu airport domestic terminal, our flights were cancelled and rescheduled for the next day.

So after a 24 hour delay, our multi-disciplinary crew of 11 departed this morning on the notoriously dangerous flight to Lukla where we rendezvoused with the remaining 28 members of our expedition— our team of guides, porters and cooks. After the exciting flight to Lukla, we ended up in the small town of Chutanga at an elevation of 3,050 meters (9,760 feet). This abrupt entrance to the realm of decreased atmospheric pressure and related risk of altitude sickness sheds light on just one of the many difficulties faced by scientists doing research in these isolated areas of the Himalaya.

Working in the Himalaya is a challenge as researchers have to overcome accessibility limitations as well as other obstacles such as altitude and lack of infrastructure (as evidenced by our delayed flight).  By progressing slowly and by staying properly rested and hydrated, our expedition can safely acclimatize to ensure our glacial lake research continues. The acclimatization process requires the addition of several days to the itinerary, which means that more supplies and food must be brought along with us,and, in turn, requires a larger support staff to accompany us up to the lakes. It is quite a feat to continuously address these issues.  As you can see, the challenges of glacial lake research in the Himalaya compound rapidly and require constant collaboration, education, and adaptation within the community as well as the expedition team itself.

At this point, we are more than adequately prepared to live comfortably and conduct effective research in the great Himalaya for the next month.  We have brought with us multiple solar panels, a kerosene powered generator, all-season tents, layers upon layers of warm clothing, medical supplies, food, coffee, a French press, headlamps, guitars, harmonicas and playing cards—all of the most essential items for mountainous livelihood. In the motto of our organizing company, Himalayan Research Expeditions: We Trek for Science!!!

Day 2: Cinco De Mayo At 4,000 Meters

We stepped out of our tents this morning and were greeted with a light dusting of snow.  The winter wonderland was a beautiful sight, but provided an additional challenge as we trekked 1000 vertical meters (3200 feet) to our next location, Kharkatenga (aka The Snow Line).  Our all-day ascent brings us to a new altitude at 4000 meters (12,800 feet).  With this rapid elevation change, it is especially important for team members to hydrate, rest, and pay attention to any signs of altitude sickness.  Tomorrow, we will cross the Zatrwa La Pass at 4610 m (14,752 feet) and officially enter the Hinku Valley.  But for now, with another snowstorm rolling in for the afternoon and evening, our expedition team is relaxing until our chili con carne dinner in honor of Cinco de Mayo.  Fiesta!

Day 3: Crossing The Threshold Into The Hinku Valley

Beginning the day at approximately 6:30 am at an elevation of 4,000 meters (12,800 feet) we immediately began to ascend the 600m steep snow covered slope up to the Zetrwa La Pass at 4600m. The nearly vertical climb required fixed ropes as well as an abundance of patience, focus, and determination while combating the elements as well as trail traffic jams with other climbing parties coming down. After a safe ascent, the expedition followed an exposed route around the backside of Munjo peak, contouring through snowfields, cliffs, and boulders. During the traverse, only to make things more interesting, weather conditions rapidly deteriorated into a plethora of fog, heavy snow and wind, as well as thunder and lightning. Needless to say, it was a challenging trek but ultimately the day was met with success as we are now settled in a comfortable lodge in Thuli Kharka. Now officially in the HInku Valley, we await dinner surrounded by our white wilderness. The adventures of today have solidified in our minds just how challenging continued research in the Himalaya can be. The combination of extreme terrain, altitude and unexpected weather conditions compound into a very difficult, albeit rewarding, expedition. 

Day 4: The Ups And Downs Of The Hinku

A foot of fresh powder welcomed us as we made our descent into the Hinku valley.  Our traverse through the snow-covered boulders and alpine peaks made for a beautiful morning hike.  After crossing our final mountain pass, we began a steep descent to the forest below the snowline.  Finally down in the valley, our trail took us through forests of Himalayan Silver Birch, Fir and Rhododendron trees with pink, white, and red flowers.  At the bottom of the valley, we began a steady climb along the Hinku River to the village of Khote.  This stretch of trail provided shocking views of a massive scar from the 1998 Tam Pokhari glacial lake outburst flood.  The debris-filled floodplain and stripped landscape was a stark contrast to the surrounding forest.  In addition to the GLOF destruction, we found ourselves trudging through a graveyard of trees.  This ruin, however, was the result of rapid tourist development in the Hinku valley.  Hundreds of ancient trees were chopped down to support the construction of lodges in Khote in order to provide a base for trekkers on their way to Mera Peak.

The combination of the natural GLOF devastation and the manmade development has profoundly altered the landscape of the region.  In the future, with the threat of another GLOF from Dudh Pokhari, the valley may change yet again.  Khote could be inundated and the GLOF scar from 1998 would widen.  It is this threat that we hope to evaluate in the coming days as we make our way further up the valley, back to the alpine, to Dudh Pokhari.

Day 5: Interview With The Professor About Tam Phokari Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF)

Question and Answer with Dr. Daene McKinney

Q: What has been your experience thus far on the expedition?

A: The last few days we have experienced first-hand the reality of the difficulties regarding access to this area for research and interaction with the communities.

Q: Would you describe the GLOF site that we saw yesterday?

A: On September 3rd, 1998 at 5:00 am. the terminal moraine holding back Tam Pokhari, a glacial lake situated at the top of the Hinku Valley, was breached sending a wall of water down the canyon, picking up a large amount of sediment along the way which increased the damage of the flood. Once the flood reached a wider section of the river valley, near the town of Khote, the sediment was deposited.

Q: Is a future GLOF a concern for the town of Khote?

A: It will likely not be from the same lake in the next few decades but another nearby lake, Dudh Pokhari, is a concern because it hasn’t had a GLOF before.

Q: Since a previous GLOF has happened in this area, will that change the potential damage from a future GLOF?

A: The new construction of these growing communities are now approaching or are now within the floodplain of a future GLOF.

Q: Will the sediment left from the previous GLOF contribute to a future GLOF?

A: GLOFs are more powerful when they are sediment and water in composition, as opposed to just a flood of water, and so this previously deposited sediment is just more for a future GLOF to pick up.

Q: What is your current hypothesis regarding Dudh Pokhari and its current state?

A:We expect to find a relatively large glacial lake but we are unsure at this point of the state of the terminal moraine. If the moraine is steep and sharp, it will be much more dangerous than if it is long and wide. Before coming to Nepal on this expedition, we did not expect overhanging ice; however the governmental organization ICIMOD claims that there is such a danger. We seek to prove or disprove any potential triggers for a GLOF.

Day 5: What’s With The Wiggles?

Our glorious, sunny rest day in Khote provided a prime opportunity to unpack all of the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment for a test run and to analyze the composition of the ground around the village. In 1998, a GLOF from Tam Pokhari deposited a massive amount of sediment in the river basin where Khote is now built. By using the GPR, we were able to determine that the depth of the deposited sediment debris was approximately 30 meters.

How did we figure that out?! When we use GPR to measure ground layer composition, the output is a series of feedback signals that effectively look like “wiggles” on a line. Each wiggle corresponds to a different ground layer, and when analyzed, allows us to determine what each layer of the ground is and where it lies. Who knew that wiggles could say so much!

Day 6: Onwards And Upwards: Bushwhacking To Dudh Pokhari

After a wonderful 24 hour rest day in Khote, the expedition team split in two with half of the team heading up the Hinku River basin to Tagnag to continue the Last Mile technology and the other half up the Dudh River to reach the Dudh Pokhari glacial lake.  Our trudge up to Dudh Pokhari was intense, to say the least.  The route involved constructing several stone “bridges” across the Dudh River, ascending 1200m in elevation, and ultimately bushwhacking for 7 hours.  A cold wind and snow hit for our last two hours, so when we finally arrived at the lake it was time for warm drinks, cozy tents, and rest. With a clear evening sky and a warm Nalgene for the sleeping bag, we’re headed to bed before the big day of science tomorrow.

Day 7: The First Ever Scientific Study At Dudh Pokhari

After a good night’s rest at the lake, we unpacked all the GPR equipment to perform the first ever scientific study at Dudh Pokhari. We conducted five different transverses of the glacial moraine using two different antennae to measure different depths within the moraine. Now we bring you a video from the field, explaining the equipment and setup used.

Watch Jeff explaining GPR!

As mentioned by Jeff in the video, this GPR setup can be quite dangerous as the impulse generator takes a 12 volt electrical charge and amplifies it to discharge 4,000 volts. We thought it wise to strap that to the back of a professor…

Day 8: Reunion In Tagnag

Early in the morning, the glacial lake team wrapped up work in the alpine and descended from Dudh Pokhari. Once in the river valley 1200m below, the team made its way up to Tagnag and was reunited with the Last Mile group.  Along the trail and in Tagnag, we crossed paths with several expedition groups on their way to attempt the summit of Mera Peak. This route is one of the most popular mountaineering treks in Nepal and the tourism generated by climbers is essential to the local economy in the Makalu Barun National Park. For our expedition team, crossing paths with the climbers provided a great opportunity to raise awareness about our work and to chat with some new faces. We hope that by talking with climbing groups and working with the Mera Alpine Conservation Group, with whom we will meet tomorrow, we can help preserve the splendor of this area.

Day 9: A Busy Day In Tagnag

Our day in Tagnag proved to be quite eventful with a GPR survey of the nearby Tam Pokhari lake (responsible for the 1998 GLOF), as well as a productive meeting with the Mera Alpine Conservation Group (MACG). The GPR survey of the moraine holding back Tam Pokhari involved four traverses of the moraine with two different antennae, and provides excellent data of the moraine and its composition. Additionally, the team identified potential and triggers, including several massive hanging glaciers high above the lake that could fall into the lake and cause a wave that would rush over the moraine and result in a flood. This was our second full GPR field survey, and was great practice for our upcoming 4-day survey at Imja Lake in the Khumbu. With each survey, we become more efficient maneuvering the equipment across the moraine and developing a “first-look” analysis of the danger of the lake. Who you ‘gonna call? The GLOF-Busters!

After the Tam Pokhari survey, we met with the MACG to learn about their main objectives for the upcoming year and to establish a cooperative arrangement between the community and The Mountain Institute. During the meeting, we had the opportunity to share our first-look analysis of both Tam Pokhari and Dudh Pokhari. The community appreciated that people from outside their valley were interested and aware of the danger of the lakes, and the MACG was very receptive to develop solutions to reduce damage from these floods. The community members were also interested and supportive of a return visit to the lake for further analysis that would involve a bathymetry survey and additional GPR.

With the initial GPR data in hand and the positive connection with the local community, our expedition team was ecstatic about the successful day in Tagnag!

Day 10 And 11: Up And Out, Returning To Lukla

For the past two days, we gave our legs quite the workout, climbing out of the Hinku Valley and descending back to Lukla. Starting in Khote, our first day involved an 800 meter near vertical ascent to the village of Thuli Kharka (3500m to 4300m) on the Hinku side of the Zetra La Pass: our gateway back to Lukla. After a restful night in a lodge, we made the ascent to the pass and crossed safely back into the Khumbu. Needless to say this climb out of the Hinku was made safely and injury-free, though the weather and the trail conditions—icy and slippery at times-- made the traverse quite difficult. Now back in Lukla, the sensory overload of civilization is a bit overwhelming but the comforts, like warm beds and not-Nescafe-coffee, are welcomed!

To read about the next two weeks in Khumbu studying Imja Glacier, click here.

The Last Mile: A National Geographic Endeavor To Begin Closing The Technological Gap

Though the power of technology and social media has taken quite a foothold in most parts of our civilization today, in developing countries as well as rural areas, the lack of connectivity to this vast enterprise limits the growing community’s ability to interact with our globalized world. Without the technology to participate in this worldwide dialog and dynamic knowledge pool, these isolated communities have limited options to tell their stories and generate awareness of the problems in their daily lives. The aim of the “Last Mile” initiative is to close this technological gap and provide these communities with the means and knowledge to effectively share their stories with the outside world.

As a part of our expedition to the Hinku Valley, Chris Rainier, a National Geographic fellow, is bringing new technology to the remote Himalaya. Chris is actively involved in the Last Mile undertaking and is making strides here in Nepal to aid communities and organizations through technology education seminars to help publish the stories of remote communities. Earlier this week, the staff of The Mountain Institute (TMI) participated in one of the Last Mile seminars to learn methods of photography, videography, media editing, and social media production. The vision is that the local TMI Nepal staff will disseminate the knowledge and technology to associated communities around Nepal to facilitate story telling. After a day of training and field work, three full-service multimedia packages were donated to TMI so that they can be taken out into the field and stories from the community can be gathered and broadcast. With other similar projects underway, the access that remote communities have to the outside world is slowly increasing and the “Last Mile” of the technological deficit is ever shortening.

http://highmountains.org/blog/last-mile-national-geographic-endeavor-begin-closing-technological-gap

 

MeraAlpineConservationGroupMeetingVideoMay2012
Highlight text: 

Video from Tam Pokhari and Tagnag, Nepal.

Where we work: 
Location: 
Nepal