Cordillera Blanca, Peru 2016 http://climberscience.org/content/2016-cordillera-blanca
Objective: Develop a water quality map for Huascaran National Park and continue environmental data collection..
Summary: This year we began to delve deeply into the more remote areas of valleys we had already explored and to sample water quality and the glaciers more intensely. None of our participants had climbed a major alpine peak prior to the expedition but over the course of nine weeks we had all 21 of our participants summit peaks higher than 5400 meters (~17700 ft).
Objective: Continue to develop the ACSP’s research program and tie it closely to local stakeholder needs through a major USAID grant.
Summary: We also worked with an archeological team from Vanderbilt University to explore and map some newly discovered high altitude ruins. We further expanded our work with Peruvian universities including new collaborations with Catolica University in Lima and San Marcos University in Lima. We received permission to explore parts of HNP that are normally off-limits to outsiders in order to further expand our vegetation and climate change research.
Objective: Under the auspices of the ACSP, I led a team on Mt. Everest and Lhotse to collect a variety of environmental data to compare with our on-going research in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru and our past research on Mt. Everest.
Summary: The expedition was carried out at high elevation in spite of a tragic accident that killed part of our team and 15 other Sherpas. After the accident, we extended our expedition to Mt. Himlung near Annapurna and continued collecting data until a second accident on the rapidly melting glaciers ended the expedition. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Alpine Club, and US Fulbright Program.
2013/14 Costa Rica
Objective: Traverse the country of Costa Rica in likely the first ever Central American Coast to Coast Environmental Transect (C2C) in order to collect a variety of environmental data and assess environmental conditions in the Talamanca Mountains – the highest and most remote in Central America.
Summary: Under the auspices of the ACSP, Rebecca Cole, a scientist from the University of Colorado INSTAAR, and I led a team in traversing Costa Rica with the support of the Las Cruces Biological Station of the Organization of Tropical Studies (www.ots.ac.cr), Finca Loma Linda, and the Parque Internacional La Amistad. This effort provided a wealth of environmental data as the ACSP explored and documented the mountain jungles of the Talamanca Range – the highest in Central America – and travels from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans.
Objective: Continue the scientific research started in 2011 and 2012, while broadening participation in the ACSP among climbers and students and increasing Peruvian involvement in our work.
Summary: During this field season, Ellen Lapham, Rebecca Cole, Carl Scmitt, and I brought together over fifty participants from a wide spectrum of society – scientists, artists and bankers from New York City, doctors from Harvard, students from across the country, the Director of Huascaran National Park (HNP) and his sons – as part of our science and conservation work. We continued developing and refining science data collection techniques for remote locations. We explored new valleys and discovered that historic routes in the Cordillera Blanca are no longer viable without extreme technical skills. We presented research at two Peruvian research conferences organized by CARE, the Swiss government, USAID, the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, and others. We began working with La Molina University in Lima and increased our student engagement with UNASAM. The new Director of HNP is extremely interested in our work and we believe this Program will continue to flourish. This research was supported by the American Alpine Club and Peruvian Ministry of Environment.
Objective: Investigate new science opportunities and protocols in the Cordillera Blanca while expanding our spatial coverage of the range.
Summary: During this expedition, the American Climber Science Program brought a number of scientists together – physicists, chemists, geoscientists, and others – to explore a larger range of research opportunities while continuing the work we pioneered in 2011. We explored techniques to measure the radiative balance of glaciers using spectrometers to add to our particulate work and CO2 measurements in order to better evaluate the long-term stability of glaciers. We climbed eleven peaks and numerous scientists achieved personal ‘first ascents’ of their first peaks over 5000 meters. This research was supported by the American Alpine Club and Peruvian Ministry of Environment.
Objective: Create a new holistic environmental research paradigm in the Cordillera Blanca.
Summary: In 2011 after disruption in an existing expedition, I worked with Ellen Lapham, Rebecca Cole, Carl Schmitt, and a number of other like-minded scientists, as well as climbers who wanted to participate in science and conservation activities to create a new research paradigm. This expedition was the beginning of the American Climber Science Program, or ACSP. Our initial efforts were focused on mountain meteorology, particulates on snow, alpine ecology, and carbon dioxide on glacier margins. We did a first ascent of a North Ridge variation on Artesonraju (6025 m) and the first full traverse of the mountain. We successfully climbed seven peaks - including Huascaran Sur (6768 m), the highest point in Peru and in the Earth’s tropical zone - and explored a number of remote locations to gather our data. We began a long-term working relationship with the Ministry of the Environment, Huascaran National Park staff, and UNASAM – the University of Huaraz in Peru. This research was supported by the American Alpine Club and the Peruvian Ministries of Life and of Environment.
Objective: Develop snow sampling techniques to measure glacier degradation on Denali.
Summary: We spent several weeks climbing the mountain and exploring side valleys to examine snow and ice processes from both isolated and more commonly visited parts of the mountain. Samples were taken all of the way up to the summit.
Objective: I received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to support the following activities: (i) exploration and environmental data collection expeditions throughout Nepal and Tibet and (ii) the conduct of field camps involving botany and remote sensing in various regions of Nepal, all in collaboration with the Central Department of Botany at the Tribhuvan University (TU) in Nepal. The objective of this Project was to collect environmental data and botanical samples, and document environmental conditions, in order to better understand climate change, while helping develop the local resources to conduct such research independently in the future by acquiring grants for infrastructure development at TU.
Summary of Exploration and Data Collection Expeditions:
Our team explored and documented environmental conditions and collected plant samples for the Tribhuvan University Central Herbarium (TUCH) in every remote location possible within the Langtang, Makalu, Manslu, Anapurna, Chitwan, Sagarmatha and Shivapuri protected areas, with a particular focus on the Khumbu region of Nepal. In total, we explored nearly 1,000 miles and climbed over 50 vertical miles during these expeditions. Nearly 100 students from Tribhuvan University participated during these expeditions – some of the students included professors who were learning how to combine field data collection with satellite remote sensing. Several participants used this unique data to support their Master’s theses. Multiple manuscripts presenting the results from the Project have been published, or are currently under review for publication. As the culmination of the trip, I spent two months in Tibet and climbed Mt. Everest via the North Col/Northeast Ridge Route. I summited without crampons; which has never been done before - unless George Mallory achieved the feat before his death. I also explored numerous valleys and ridge systems surrounding both the Tibet and Nepal Everest Base Camps for ground reference environmental data collection for use in the remote sensing studies documented above in the publications and presentations section; many of these isolated areas have almost certainly never been visited in the past.
Summary of Workshops:
We conducted the following field workshops in conjunction with Tribhuvan University:
Botany and Remote Sensing Field Camp; Sept. 8-20, 2009; Langtang National Park, Nepal. Twenty-nine Tribhuvan University Masters of Botany students participated in this field camp as part of the requirements for their degree. The field camp was Dr. John All, Dr. Narcisa Pricope, Dr. Ram Kailash Yadav, and Dr. Chandra Prasad Pokhrel led the field camp in which students collected botanical samples and ground control points in order to create plant range maps and spatially determine species habitat requirements using GIS. Efforts were especially focused on plants with ethnobotanical value and at discerning climate change impacts on Himalayan biota. The physical samples were dried, pressed, and added to the permanent collection at the Tribhuvan University Central Herbarium (TUCH). The geospatial information for each specimen was added to a new biodiversity inventory system created at TUCH under the guidance of Dr. All. Several students used the data as part of their thesis research.
Botany and Remote Sensing Field Camp; Dec. 12-28, 2009; Manaslu Conservation Area, Nepal. Tribhuvan University Masters of Botany students participated in this field camp in association with the National Trust for Nature Conservation – the managing agency for this protected area. Students collected botanical samples and ground control points in order to create plant range maps and spatially determine species habitat requirements using GIS. Research focused on the impacts on climate variability upon carbon sequestration, grazing, and invasive plants. Several students used the data as part of their thesis research.
Botany and Remote Sensing Field Camp; Jan. 2-10, 2009; Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal. Tribhuvan University Master’s of Botany students participated in this field camp in association with the National Trust for Nature Conservation – the managing agency for this protected area. Students collected botanical samples and ground control points in order to create plant range maps and spatially determine species habitat requirements using GIS. Research focused on the impacts of trekking and agriculture upon mountain biodiversity. Several students used the data as part of their thesis research.
2009 Botswana/Namibia/South Africa
Objective: Live in Chobe National Park and map the vegetation in the most remote sections of the Park. Map vegetation in the Caprivi Strip and compare these conditions to National Parks in South Africa.
Summary: Our small team spent five weeks continuously living in Chobe National Park, where we mapped and documented conditions in areas that had never been visited by scientists. During that period, we were threatened daily by animals – especially elephants. As a result of our work, we developed a novel theory of the hydrology of the Chobe River basin based upon observation instead of conjecture. This work supported a PhD dissertation by Narcisa Pricope and several papers and numerous scientific presentations. This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the University of Florida.
2008 Puerto Rico
Objective: Discover and map the caves on Isla Mona, Puerto Rico.
Summary: This project was undertaken at the request of the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources and is a multi-year program that I joined for one expedition. Many of the largest caves on the island were historically mined by slave labor for nitrates but none of them had ever been mapped and dozens had never been visited. Our team of ten spent a three-week expedition camping on the beach of the small island (surviving a tropical storm) and mapping caves. We discovered 28 new caves, mapped approximately 10,000 feet of cave passage, and found many two hundred year old artifacts from the nitrate industry.
Objective: Explore and map the regional National Parks and communal lands located in the Caprivi Strip and Chobe River Basin and in the process compare historical journal entries made by explorer and conservationist Graham Child in the 1950-60s to today’s vegetation.
Summary: Because of Tsetse fly, these areas had been uninhabitable until recently and so our University of Florida-led team of twenty conducted a thorough documentation of environmental and social parameters in the region. We extended this inquiry across the border into Angola and Zimbabwe and visited Kafue National Park in Zambia to take similar data as a comparison. During this trip, we mainly camped on the outskirts of the parklands and only worked during the day within the Parks, protected from animals by armed Park Service personnel. This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and directed through the University of Florida. Numerous University of Florida Masters thesis and PhD dissertations resulted.
Objective: Map vegetation cover and ground reference data to evaluate climate change impacts.
Summary: During the course of this expedition, I explored various remote areas in Patagonia in the regions around Torreys del Paine, El Chalten, and Ushuaia and collected several hundred ground reference data points for use in satellite remote sensing studies. This data was used by one of my students for his Master’s thesis.
2005/06 Caves in South Central Kentucky, USA
Objective: Map and explore Mammoth Cave and surrounding areas in conjunction with the Cave Research Foundation, Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Center for Cave and Karst Studies.
Summary: As part of this project, I mapped over 2,500 feet of new cave passage in Mammoth Cave. Additionally, I discovered a new entrance to Whigpistle cave (over thirty miles long at this time) and have mapped several miles of passage within this cave. I discovered five new caves that total nearly 3,500 feet of passage in the Mammoth Cave area. Most of these maps are kept confidential by the National Park Service in order to protect the resources.
Objective: Take vegetation ground reference data to examine climate change and to locate and map a rumored solutional cave in the Himalaya mountain range – which would be the first ever reported in the Himalaya.
Summary: This expedition was sponsored by Western Kentucky University and the World Foundation for Environment and Development (WFED) – an environmental NGO. As the country was shifting from a monarchy to democracy, I was asked by the consulting group WFED to assist with environmental resource evaluation in the country. We spent three weeks exploring the Himalayan foothills and sampling vegetation, which was shared with the Ministry of the Environment. We discovered ‘Ghost’ cave and reported it at the International Congress of Speleology in Athens, Greece. A manuscript has been prepared for publication in the Journal for Cave and Karst Studies and is undergoing review. In thanks for my efforts by the government, I was baptized in a Mahayana Buddhism temple.
2000/01 Colorado River Delta, Mexico
Objective: Expedition to support my PhD research examining the Colorado River Delta in Mexico.
Summary: This region has never fully been mapped or explored – especially after the massive changes that altered the area hydrology during the 1982/3 El Nino Event. I crisscrossed the Delta and mapped it and its flora in great detail. It was an eventful set of expeditions - an earthquake left my vehicle buried in the salt flats, on another occasion I had to walk 14 hours to find a dirt track to flag down an Army vehicle to request help freeing another vehicle, and I discovered over a ton of cocaine hidden and waiting to be smuggled across the US border.
1999 Sierra Madre, Mexico
Objective: Collect ‘fire scar’ tree-ring samples from the most remote locations in the Sierra Madre, document snake species locations, and map indigenous ruins.
Summary: As part of a National Science Foundation funded grant, Mark Kaib, a local collaborator, and I spent three weeks backpacking and collecting and carrying tree-ring samples through the Sierra Madre. This resulted in a PhD for Mark (currently the Southwest Deputy Regional Fire Management Coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System). We extended the known range of two snake species far into Mexico, and discovered an extensive set of early native American dwellings. Unfortunately, we also discovered several large marijuana plantations and were lucky to escape unharmed.
Objective: Investigate potential tourism prospects in a newly developed protected area in the Rio Tambopato area of Peru.
Summary: I volunteered to participate in an expedition to search for and evaluate possible tourism sites near a remote communally operated hostel in this new National Reserve. With local indigenous guides, I explored possible hiking trails, examined remote lakes, and searched for parrot feeding grounds in order to create a robust experience for this new eco-tourism initiative. Many of these areas had never been mapped or visited by outsiders.
Objective: Map and investigate climate change patterns in the Toachi River valley, located in the Andes in Ecuador.
Summary: I conducted this expedition to a poorly documented river valley with only a colleague from Israel and it was my first small team remote expedition. I prepared a report summarizing our findings regarding climate change patterns and human land use in the region for the University of Arizona.
1995 Bacanora, Mexico
Objective: Interview local stakeholders regarding their climate variability adaptation strategies – both what had been used in the past and what is being used today.
Summary: This expedition entailed traveling a transect from the Gulf of California through various farming villages to reach the Sierra Madre and then traveling north along its fringes in order to map villages and document native American ruins. Sponsored by the University of Arizona. As a PhD student, I interviewed locals and explored remote regions seeking ruins and isolated farmsteads for follow-up interviews.