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ç 5 The Last Thousand Years of Climate Change O ne of the reasons that scientists are so excited about having a 110,000-year-long climate record is that we can view our own climate in the twenty-first century along the same continuum as the climate that existed in prehistoric eras, in classical antiquity, in Napoleonic France, or the turn-of-the-century United States. This helps to make our work, which often seems to be esoteric and concerned with places and times that are distant from ordinary experience, interesting and relevant to others. Mayewski-White: The Ice Chronicles page 126 ✵ peak experiences As I looked up at Mount Everest (Qomolongma in Chinese, Sagarmantha in Nepalese) rising dramatically over its neighbors in the Himalayas, I thought of those who had tried to conquer it (see figure 2.10). Everest is the highest mountain in the world at just over 29,000 feet (8,839 meters) above sea level. Quite by accident, we had just camped at about 22,500 feet (6,858 meters) above sea level on what we realized the following morning to be one of George Mallory’s old campsites. He had made the first attempts to gain the summit in the 1920s, coming within a few hundred feet, but had disappeared on his last attempt with his climbing partner. Last year, Mallory’s body was discovered, but the mystery surrounding what happened on his attempt at reaching the peak is still unresolved. Sitting in camp and looking up at Everest, I also thought of the first people to have successfully climbed the summit and returned. First conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay around the time of the International Geophysical Year and Sputnik’s launching, the Everest summit remains a tantalizing challenge for climbers from around the world. I felt close toTenzing Norgay for many reasons. First, I have marveled for years at the strength and positive attitude of the Sherpa people, who have worked with us on expeditions in Nepal andTibet. Second, I also had the pleasure of having Tenzing Norgay’s son, Norbu, as my advisee while at the University of New Hampshire. He was a wonderful person, always reflecting those same qualities of grace and kindness of the Sherpa people, as if he were right at home in the New Hampshire hills rather than the mountains of Nepal. Tenzing Norbu combined his education and his experience in Asia to work in the adventure travel business. Everest shows different faces to those who would come to know it well. When you approach it on the south side, from Kathmandu, coming up through the valleys of Nepal, Everest looks very much like one of many other Himalayan peaks. From the north side, approaching over theTibetan plateau, it’s an entirely different story. Suddenly, the mountain looms up before you,12,000 to 15,000 feet (3,657 to 4,572 meters) higher than anything around it, with the other peaks shrinking off to the side. From the plateau, you realize that you are already at 15,000 feet, but Everest is twice as high, and you can often see a banner of snow blowing off the summit. Today, many of the people clambering up the Everest slopes are amateurs, taken to the top by professional climbers, and assisted by Norgay’s successors, the modern Sherpa guides. These people are taking enormous risks. As you climb higher and higher, the oxygen saturation in your blood drops to 75 to 80 percent compared to the near 100 percent we enjoy at sea level, which dramatically decreases your energy and strength. The human body is really not designed to be at those high altitudes for very long. During the first days of our high-altitude expeditions to Asia, it is hard to stay focused and enthusiastic because of the oxygen deprivation . But as with any expedition, you learn what to expect and begin to draw yourself away from the negative aspects, trying hard “to be safe, have fun, and do our best job with the science”—the motto of my research team. Mayewski-White: The Ice Chronicles page 127 The Last Thousand Years 127 ç When I say I’m going to Everest, some people think I’m planning to summit, but I never have and probably never will. I’m going for other reasons, because so many scientific opportunities are associated with the glaciers at these formidable elevations. Each year’s snow is preserved...


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