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mountain scene World's Highest Weather Station
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NOVA: How do you retrieve the information?

BILHAM: We have a telemetry (communications) module which during daylight hours comes on, and we can call it up with a laptop computer. It talks to the weather station near the summit, and we can download the data since we last called it up. The radio should be able to be picked up from Kathmandu because the summit of Everest is visible from a mountaintop near Kathmandu, where we have another telemetry repeater station, and it's our greatest hope that we should be able to pick up the weather from Kathmandu and thereby, via computers, anywhere in the world.

NOVA: Is it true that this will be the world's highest weather station?

gps BILHAM: Yes, I think there's very little doubt about that. Although we could put a weather station on the summit, the problem on the summit is twofold. It is kind of difficult to attach anything to the summit because it's ice that builds up ten, twelve feet in the winter and gets ablated, blown away, in the summer. So the thing would have to be a very tall tower, which is a difficult thing to actually fix on the summit. It could be done. Which brings us to the second problem, all these mountaineers who climb Everest are hoping to get to the summit and achieve something. I mean it's quite something to get to the summit of Mt Everest, but to find a great big tower with a weather station on the top must be something of a disappointment. I guess it would be nice if it had a coffee machine at its base, but finding a huge tower on the summit of Everest is not a nice thing so we're not going to do that. We're going to put it on the South Col, which is a fairly discreet place to put things and where there are already about 2,000 bottles of oxygen piled up ready to go down.

NOVA: You probably can't call it the world's highest weather station because, in fact, don't satellites assist in weather forecasting?

clouds BILHAM: Well, you don't have weather stations on satellites because the satellites are floating through space where there is no weather. They're looking at weather. There are weather stations that go up on balloons and they can certainly ascend to higher levels. This is the highest fixed weather station, the highest one before was in the Karakoram mountains, but that was recently abandoned. In fact, there are a bunch of weather stations all throughout the Khumbu, or Sagarmatha National Park. Because Nepal is worried about water resources, there are a number of stations monitoring the snowfall and rainfall of this region.


Photos: (1, 3) courtesy David Breashears; (2) Liesl Clark.

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