Human Journey

Expedition to a New Glacial Lake

The following is edited from several recent posts from the Imja Lake Expedition team at The Mountain Institute. Follow the full series at

Glaciers Are Melting, and We’re Taking Action!

The mountain world is changing faster than any of us could have imagined: these changes threaten all of us who live downstream. Glaciers are melting, rainfall patterns are changing, and the world’s most important fresh water supplies are endangered.

The Mountain Institute is currently leading a month-long series of workshops and an expedition to Imja Lake, a newly-formed, potentially dangerous, glacial lake near Mount Everest.They ’re going to the field and talking to local people in order to research and educate.

The team is made up of over 30 engineers, photographers, journalists, and world-class scientists from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Peru, Bolivia, Japan, the US and Europe to the field to exchange knowledge with local people about monitoring and controlling glacial lakes. We’ll evaluate the danger of Imja, and determine how to control it so it can supply fresh water safely and reliably to downstream communities for drinking, irrigation, and the generation of electricity.


The Local Point of View

Ang Rita Sherpa (Photo by Brendan Hickey/The Mountain Institute)

Ang Rita is a long-time conservationist and activist for the Sherpa people and culture; he has been The Mountain Institute’s Senior Program Manager in Nepal for years. As a native to the region, he has a unique view into what makes this expedition stand out:

“In the past, scientists met with Sherpa villagers interested in the future of the Imja valley. But the scientists only discussed the threats, not the solutions.  My people were unhappy.  So, The Mountain Institute promised an expedition with solutions. And now, every morning, people call me to ask when the expedition will reach their village – they are very excited for us to talk to them about solutions to the threats from glacial lakes, and how the water from the lakes can be used to help local communities with irrigation, electricity and other practical purposes.”


International Inspiration and Collaboration

Jorge Recharte (Photo by Daniel Byers/TMI)

One might think that the Peruvian scientists, familiar with the high Andes, would feel right at home in the Himalaya. There is however one major distinction that is noted repeatedly: “Peru is very different from the Himalayas because here the scale is just huge.”

In Peru, roads make most of the dangerous lakes accessible within one or two days; but Imja lake is at least a week’s trek from Lukla, the nearest large village.

Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andean Programs at TMI commented on the benefits of having such a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives on the expedition:

“There was a conversation last night between Ang Rita, a Nepali, and Cesar, a Peruvian, discussing what’s possible… and what’s not possible – it is just fantastic, the sparks of ideas that happen when you bring [together] different backgrounds, different nationalities. […] There is a common goal to understand glacial lakes, to share our respective experiences… the process of working through that, and then collaborating. If we continue as we have so far these two days, the result will be very powerful.”


The Technical Challenges

Technology at the Top of the World. (Photo courtesy The Mountain Institute.)

Since the team is in such a remote location, all communications are going out via a satellite phone. Physically it looks like an indestructible cellphone with an 80’s-style antenna. It’s not very fast, but up here it’s the only option.

To facilitate writing posts, they’ve hauled a pair of netbooks up with plenty of spare batteries. With any luck the power will hold out through the remotest stretch of the expedition.


LATEST UPDATE: Arrival at Imja Lake!

9/12/11 — This morning we woke to a dusting of fresh powder, inspiring thoughts of the song “Snow, snow, snow” from the movie-musical White Christmas.  With Bing Cosby’s melodies in head the team gathered for breakfast, only to find our departure to Imja Lake was delayed…

Luckily, the slushy rain let up around 10am and our expedition was able to depart after lunch.  A few hours later, we found ourselves in a neon yellow tent village at Imja Lake Base Camp.  We have arrived!  For the next three days, we will explore the lake, exchange with locals, and brainstorm future research and action items.

And with walls of mountains surrounding us and the lake in our backyard, inspiration will surely flow.

Imja Base Camp (photo by Daniel Byers/TMI) 

Follow the full blog series of the Imja Lake Expedition at

  • Rich

    I am just wondering what is it that makes these glacier lakes dangerous?

  • Steve

    (I am just wondering what is it that makes these glacier lakes dangerous?). Good question. I’m tired of NG’s poor journalist skills. They’re articles leave me with more questions than answers.

  • Guruprasad Gautam

    GLOF is the serious environmental problem of mountainous countries. Tsose countries are suffering by global warming and climatic change, which are originates by developed countries.

  • Lozana M

    Easy question – when the glaciers melt prematurely there can be 1) unexpected huge floods 2) not enough water resource in the long run – water resources in such places depend on the gradual melting of the glaciers and the formations of rivers with constant flow throughout the year – if the water melts too fast it forms a lake, which can evaporate, or flood etc, but in the long run there will be not enough water for the people….. I’m not a scientist, but I think this is what happens more or less.

  • Bob Davis

    Good comment about what makes these glacial lakes dangerous. I am not a glacial scientist, but I have been following this issue for some time. Because of climate change, many of these glacial lakes are newly formed or expanding rapidly. They are being formed behind unstable glacial moraines. Given enough water in these lakes, along with the possibility of some trigger event like an earthquake or a large chunk of the glacier falling into the lake, and there is the potential for a large outburst of water cascading down a narrow mountain valley at high velocity. This phenomenon is known as a glacial lake outburst flood (or GLOF). GLOF events in the past (particularly in the Himalayas and Andes) have been catastrophic, wiping out bridges, roads, fields and worse, entire communities. Climate change and the resulting increase of glacial melt and retreat has resulted in many new glacial lakes and the expansion of existing lakes, increasing the threat of GLOFs in many of these mountain regions.

    Hope this helps to answer the question about what makes glacier lakes dangerous. If you want more information, do a search on GLOFs, or just keep reading the posts from this expedition.

  • Ayse Koylu

    Wow! I want to be there too.

  • […] National Geographic covered us on their blog and used several of my photos,The Guardian Environement Blog also featured a photo of mine from the trip. […]

  • […] 2011 Expedition Blog […]

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media