Summit Science
Measuring the world's biggest mountain

Dave Mencin sets up GPS gear on the trek to base camp.
(photo: Corfield)
The Plan for '98
Dave Mencin, a member of the National Science Foundation's research facility called UNAVCO, will be the expedition's hands-on scientist. He served in a similar role on the 1996 expedition to Mount Everest lead by Todd Burleson. Mencin has made these kinds of measurements all over the world, and his summary of what the team hopes to accomplish follows.

As with last year, our primary objective will be measure the summit of Everest using GPS (that is, geo-positioning satellites, which allow scientist to pinpoint the location of something on earth by obtaining "fixes" by orbiting satellites, whose positions are known). The purpose of such a fix is to help measure the continental deformation of the India-Asia plate collision. This point, combined with others made in the area, will give us some idea of how the area is deforming.

The Himalayas are a result of the collision of the Indian Plate with the Asian Plate. A point in central India gets some five or six centimeters closer to Tibet each year. This closure results in mountain formation. This closure does not happen in one place in but across a region of deformation, and by measuring a line of points across this region to within 1cm (or less) we can get some idea of where things are happening and at what rate — for instance where does India turn under Tibet?

Simonson and Wilson practice with the drill
[click to zoom]
(photo: Corfield)
We have two points that are to be measured: the point of exposed bedrock nearest the summit and a well-established point at the South Col. We will also measure points in Kala Pattar, Namche Bazaar, and Pheriche. This work is a continuation and in conjunction with work begun by Roger Bilham and Fred Blume.

A secondary reason to survey in the summit of Everest is to complete a life long dream of Brad Washburn. Brad is both a famous surveyor and accomplished mountaineer who made his fame surveying, climbing, and photographing Denali in Alaska. Brad published definitive maps of both Denali and the Everest Region. We hope to put the final touch on his Everest map.

Since we have all this GPS equipment with us, and at the constant urging of Brad Washburn, we will also map most of the major features along the route. We will not do this to the same accuracy as the geodetic experiment but will get general ideas of the location of features such as all the camps, South Summit, bottom and top of the Hillary Step, etc. We will map most features to within 2 meters. To practice these techniques, the climbing team will be mapping out villages like Pheriche on the way up.

The Trimble 4800
[click to zoom]
(photo: Corfield)
This year, due to a generous donation from Trimble Navigation, we will be using the latest in dual frequency GPS receivers to survey Everest. The geodetic experiment will be conducted with Trimble 4800 receivers with a base station running at Kala Pattar. (Not to mention theie ease of use will make them usable at 8800m!) These receivers will give differential accuracy greater than 1cm. Our mapping endeavors will be conducted using Trimble GeoExplorers, handheld GPS carrier phase receivers. Using post processing with the same base station, we should achieve differential accuracy of near one meter (depending on visibility, which may be limited in the Cwm).

In conjunction with the Media Lab at MIT, we will be placing a continuos weather stations at both the South Col and the Summit.

Dave Mencin, Expedition Scientist