Ulyana Horodyskyj drilling on the frozen surface of Spillway Lake, Ngozumpa glacier, Nepal. She is studying the thermal properties of the water, through temperature sensor buoys in the depths of the lake.

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a new series by Ulyana Horodyskyj, who chronicled an earlier expedition to Nepal in a series called, “Climbing Mount Everest,” which can be found by clicking here. Horodyskyj’s work focuses determining how airborne particles such as dust and soot that settle on massive glaciers alter how snow and ice melt, which could affect climate change as well as local water supplies. Other posts in this series, "Return to Nepal", can be found by clicking here.

When my last blog entry posted in June 2014, I thought it was the end – at least for the time being – of my research in Nepal. Since my return to the States, I have kept busy analyzing a year’s worth of data and preparing my PhD dissertation on supraglacial lake changes and black carbon/dust deposition on Himalayan snowpack. While lakes eat away at ice in glacier ablation (melt) zones, dust and soot can enhance melting higher up, in accumulation zones where the glaciers grow.

As dark particles settle on snow and ice, they accelerate melting because they cause the snow to absorb more solar radiation. In the field, this can be quantified by collecting physical samples of snow, filtering them for contaminants and then analyzing the filters back in the lab for dust and soot content.

In addition, portable spectrometers and pyranometers (upward and downward-pointing instruments) can be used to measure snow albedo (reflectivity) in real-time in the field and compare that information with data collected by overhead satellite. While the satellite takes one measurement as an average over a very large area (e.g., a 500-by-500 meter “pixel”), we have the ability, in the field, to collect higher resolution data within this pixel. This involves walking transects with our instruments and taking frequent measurements of snow and ice along the way. Given crevasse danger, we will remain roped together the entire time.

Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world, viewed from the Gokyo valley. / Photo by Ulyana Horodyskyj.

For this upcoming expedition, I will be joined by two field assistants: Karl Rittger, PhD, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, and Evan Buckland, a hydrologist and volunteer for the American Climber Science Program. Thamserku Trekking, a tour operator based in Kathmandu, will provide logistical support as we climb to over 17,000 feet to set up our experiments. I will arrive at the field site around October 18 to pick up instruments left running in some of the nearby supraglacial lakes since June 2014.

Originally, colleagues already on-site were to assist with this, but I decided that one more trip to the region would be good for project closure. In addition, last summer (June 2013) when my field assistant Sam Ecenia (from the University of Colorado, Boulder) and I put up a camera to track icefall changes on Cho Oyu (the sixth highest mountain in the world), we did a bit of exploring in the region, but never made it up to a nearby clean-ice glacier. This expedition will provide us with the opportunity to climb to that unexplored ice and make some new measurements.

This time of year should provide clear stable skies, which are ideal for spectrometer measurements. The instrument, a portable FieldSpec4 provided by PANalytical in Boulder will gather information on snow and ice reflectivity across the visible and near-infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, from 300 to 2,500 nanometers. As humans, we only see the visible part of the spectrum, from 400 to 700 nanometers, but a wealth of information exists at the longer wavelengths. This small glacier will serve as our natural laboratory for about a week. Given its remoteness and distance from cities, it should provide good “baseline” measurements – any soot that we find likely will be the result of long-range transport.

Stay tuned as we again climb high for science!