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Everest Photos Reveal Ice Shrinkage

July 17, 2010

New photos taken from the same spot that British climber George Mallory captured on camera in 1921 show significant ice loss.

The Asia Society (AS) arranged for the pictures to be taken.

“The photographs reveal a startling truth: the ice of the Himalaya is disappearing,” according to an AS statement.

“They reveal an alarming loss in ice mass over an 89-year period.”

The photos taken by Mallory reveal a powerful, white, S-shaped sweep of ice on the mountain.

Mountaineer David Breashears took the 2010 photos, which reveal that the main Rongbuk Glacier is shrunken and withered.

“Returning to the exact same vantage points, Breashears has meticulously recreated their shots, pixel for pixel,” the AS statement said.

“The photographs illustrate the severity of the loss of ice mass among the glaciers surrounding Mount Everest.”

According to the AS, the findings are “vitally important” because the Himalayas are home to the world’s largest sub-polar ice reserves.

“The melt waters of these high altitude glaciers supply crucial seasonal flows to the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which hundreds of millions of people downstream depend on for their livelihoods,” the statement said.

“If the present rate of melting continues, many of these glaciers will be severely diminished by the middle of this century.”

Breashears retraced the steps of the 1921 expedition by using photos taken by surveyor and photographer Maj Edward Wheeler and amateur photographer Mallory, who later died attempting to reach the summit of Everest in 1924.

“The melt rate in this region of central and eastern Himalaya is extreme and is devastating,” Breashears told an AS meeting in New York on Wednesday.

He followed in the footsteps of Mallory, but also those of Italian photographer Vittorio Sella.  The results of this expedition showed a series of photographs from Tibet, Nepal and near K2 in Pakistan.

“If this isn’t evidence of the glaciers in serious decline, I don’t know what is,” Breashears told AFP news.

One glacier near K2 required three climbs of 6,000 feet before he found the same view that Sella enjoyed.

“We were totally in awe of the people that had been there before,” Breashears said.

Breashears recorded each of his spots with GPS coordinates so future photographs can be taken easier.

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