Mount Everest’s Highest Glacier Reportedly Melting at High Rate

by Matthew Memrick

Maine researchers made a frightening discovery recently as they learned Mount Everest’s highest glacier is melting at a very high rate.

The BBC reported they witnessed the South Col Glacier’s loss of more than 180 feet of thickness since 1997.

The glacier’s thinning is about 80 times faster than it first took to form on the surface. Scientists blame warming temperatures and strong winds for the melting.

The South Col Glacier is 25,938 feet above sea level. The mountain is the tallest in the world and sits among the Himalayas of China and Nepal.

Scientists Say Ice Took 2,000 Years To Form

The Mount Everest group observed the melted ice and said that the black ice beneath it is now exposed. This change has only sped up the entire melting process.

The change is so drastic that one of the study’s lead researchers, Dr. Mariusz Potocki, said this particular glacier is probably “on the way out.”

Potocki called it a relic from an older, colder time.

Dr. Tom Matthews, a climate scientist and another report author, told the BBC that there’s no single smoking gun regarding the region’s climate and melting surge.

“Instead, the steady uptick in temperatures eventually pushes the glacier across a threshold, and suddenly everything changes,” he said.

Sure, glacier melting is a constant thing with scientists, but they say they’ve never seen this much on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain before.

Ten scientists installed the world’s two highest weather monitoring stations and got samples from a 32-foot long ice core. Dr. Paul Mayewski, a leader on the expedition, said the new location has helped show how sensitive the Earth is to even a “relatively small change.”

Mayewski affirmed past scientific reports that the rapid melting could drastically impact the region and on a global scale.

Melting Affects Millions

For example, the Himalayan mountain range is a significant source for millions. If other glaciers melt as fast as Everest, drinking water and irrigation supplies could fall significantly.

The melting also poses a threat for future Mount Everest climbers. More exposed bedrock and ice cover can hinder climbing.

Matthews called the South Col Glacier melt “very small in the grand scheme of things.”

But researchers must see how the Mount Everest glacier compares with other mountainous ice areas throughout the world.

The BBC reported that French researchers also found a heightened melting rate on the world’s glaciers. In 2020, Northwestern University reported that the Maine researchers found melting on the Khumbu Glacier, located on the Nepalese side of the Himalayan mountain range. 

One of the graduate researchers, Laura Mattas of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, had a grim outlook on what the group found.

“We’re at the blinking yellow light,” she said.

Why do scientists study these glaciers? Scientists find they respond to global temperature and precipitation fluctuations. Recent studies have found the glaciers retreated significantly as Earth’s rising average temperature melts ice more quickly than snow accumulates to replace it.