Experts contend measures needed to reduce destabilization at Everest Base Camp

Environmentalists say changes happening rapidly at base camp due to climate change, human activity.

Experts contend measures needed to reduce destabilization at Everest Base Camp

Authorities in Nepal are considering relocating the base camp of Mount Everest because of environmental concerns.

Experts and environmentalists support the move they say is needed to alleviate growing signs of destabilization.

The current base camp is at 5,364 meters (17,598 feet) above sea level and is known as the Khumbu region, home to the Sherpa people.

Over the years, environmentalists have urged additional measures to deal with environmental damage at the world’s highest peak.

A study in the Nature Portfolio Journal of Climate and Atmospheric Science earlier this year said that ice formed on the South Col Glacier -- one of the highest glaciers on Mount Everest during a period of 2,000 years, melted in about 25 years.

Sudeep Thakuri, a climate scientist and the dean of the faculty of science at Mid-Western University in Nepal, said the shifting of the base camp is related to the melting of snow and glacier ice by human activity in and around the Everest Base Camp (EBC), and "conceptually it is reasonable.”

"The EBC is located just below the Khumbu Ice-fall (the most dangerous section of Mt Everest summit route) ... one can easily observe that the increased human activities in the EBC have disturbed the clean ice. The landscape around the EBC has physically changed in the last few decades," he said. "The glacier ice pinnacles in and around the basecamp have considerably reduced. This is surely contributed by human activities in the basecamp, including frequent movements and local heating effects.”

Thakuri said that from a security standpoint, the current base camp is located in a high-risk zone as snow, ice, and rock avalanches can also create devastating effects in the region.

"A rise in temperature and permafrost degradation can potentially increase the chances of avalanches in the regions," he said.

He said local negative effects can be minimized with planned mountaineering arrangements.

But the increasing global warming issue may not be addressed just by shifting the base camp or taking similar local efforts, he warned

"I assume that only shifting the base camp by a few kilometers away may not solve the problem in the long run. In fact, there are hardly suitable locations available for the basecamp," he said.

Thakuri said the study on glacier change in the Mount Everest region showed that about 390 square kilometers (150 square miles) of the surface were covered by glaciers in the upper Dudh Koshi River valley where Everest is located.

"In the last half a century (from 1962), the region has already lost about 15% of glacier surface area with the retreat of an average of about 6 meters per year, glacier length and ice mass loss from the glaciers by an average thickness loss of 0.6 meters per year," he said.

Melting fast

Priti Bhusal, a Nepal-based physician who successfully summited Everest in 2022, told Anadolu Agency that she was surprised to see melting ice cliffs and it is the melting of the cliffs that mostly destabilizes the glacier.

"Most of the glacier is covered by rocky debris but there are also areas of exposed ice, called ice cliffs. It results in increased rock fall and avalanches. Glaciers are melting, so there is a lack of ice and snow on the peaks. Icefall is much more unstable because it is getting warmer day by day," she said.

Bhusal said, according to residents and Sherpas, decades ago on Mount Everest, ice would be present at the base camp until the end of May.

"Now, only running water and open rock are seen in the base camp by April. Everest base camp trekking routes are showing the signs of climate change," she said.

Bhusal said at the camp, rockfalls, avalanches, and ice falls can be heard.

To decrease the risk of increased signs of destabilization at the base camp, it should be shifted 200 - 400 meters (656 - 1,312 feet) lower at the rocky part so that the crevasses and cracks that appear overnight at the camp will be less.

"Helicopter operation should be controlled. Unnecessary use of helicopters are making too much noise pollution in the Himalayan region in the Khumbu region," she said.

Under consideration

The head of Nepal's Tourism Department told Anadolu Agency that it is studying the relocation of the base camp.

"We are getting worries and concerns by the countries about melting of glaciers ... and so we have compiled that recommendation (relocation) to the primary report to the Ministry of Tourism. It is now under consideration," said Taranath Adhikari.

He said that his agency has recommended forming a research committee for science that will study, research what they find and maybe relocate or continue the base camp with other measures.