UMaine scientist on Mt. Everest expedition

April 10, 2001

ORONO, Maine -- A University of Maine post-doctoral researcher will climb the shoulder of Mt. Everest in May in a project spurred by Chinese and American collaboration on global climate research. Shichang Kang and other researchers with the Chinese Academy of Science will climb to 21,325 feet (6,500 meters) on the north side of the world's highest peak in May. Kang will leave for China on April 15 and will be making his fifth high elevation climb in the region since 1992.

He began working with Paul Mayewski, co-director of the Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies at UMaine and one of the world's leading ice core researchers, in 1997. Kang's destination is a relatively level area on the East Rongbuk Glacier. As have many Himalayan glaciers, the lower end of the Far East Rongbuk Glacier has retreated significantly (seven meters per year) over the past decade.

"The main crest of the Himalayas represents the climatic boundary between a region dominated by the influence of the Indian summer monsoon to the south and the relatively cold and dry continental climate which characterizes the Tibetan plateau to the north. The location of the East Rongbuk Glacier . . . provides a unique opportunity to describe and understand the south Asian monsoon system and its relationship with the global climate system," he has written in a summary of the project.

Kang an a team of Chinese scientists will take two weeks to travel by truck from the city of Lanzhou in western China to a base camp on the mountain at 16,700 feet. From there, the expedition will travel by yak to a second camp. Much of the trip will follow a river bed that drains melting glaciers on the northern side of Everest.

Working at that altitude presents a physical challenge for scientists. Climbers suffer from frequent headaches, nausea and cracked skin, says Kang, who does not use an oxygen mask to supplement the thin air. The oxygen concentration at the working altitude is one-third of the concentration at sea level.

While at the work site, Kang and his colleagues will use ground-penetrating radar to determine the depth of the glacier to underlying bedrock. The team will also place an automatic solar power weather station on the glacier and take global positioning system measurements at stations established in past years.

Kang plans to return to the site next year to drill a deep ice core. He will return to Orono on June 10.
Research contact: Shichang Kang, Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies, 207-581-2840,

Media contact: Ann Zielinski, Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies, 207-581-2680,

University of Maine

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