World's Highest Weather Station
An Interview with Roger Bilham
Perhaps the most remote location for a piece of scientific equipment, the South
Col will now be home to the world's highest weather station. This week, the
MacGillivray Freeman Films Everest IMAX/IWERKS Format Science Expedition will
be installing a weather station at 26,000 feet on Everest. This station,
brought to Base Camp and set up by geophysicist Roger Bilham of the University
of Colorado, will be placed on snow and ice and embedded in a deep pile of
stone to withstand the high winds on the South Col. The station is equipped to
measure temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed.
NOVA: What is this gadget we're looking at?
BILHAM: We've got a weather package here that's been tested for extreme
conditions. Specially built for Mt. Everest, it is designed to function
reliably at minus 55 degrees centigrade, and under wind stresses of 150 mph.
We're actually not monitoring many parameters. There are three separate
temperature probes designed to tell us about air temperatures and temperatures
closer to the ground. We have a solar radiometer that measures the radiation
coming to the earth from space. Of course, at sea level, a radiometer will
tell you about all the stuff in between you and space. But at the top of Mt
Everest there isn't much between you and space, so it's a very reliable measure
of what the sun's pushing out. In fact there are particles of dust floating
over Everest, so it's quite interesting to see what's there. And the other two
sensors are wind direction and wind speed. With an anemometer, the propeller
thing flops around and points in the direction of the wind.
Now the package is interesting because it was put specially together by
Campbell Scientific, one of our best manufacturers of these things, and what
they've done is they've got a black box here, which was switched on a couple of
months ago in Boulder, Colorado and will operate for 3 years. So it's now
measuring temperature at Base Camp, and as it goes up the mountain it will
measure temperature along the way and when it's sitting on the South Col it
will be measuring temperature and other parameters.
The whole business of predicting the weather depends on knowing how much water
vapor there is in the atmosphere and where the winds are going, what the
pressure conditions are, and what the temperature conditions are throughout the
Photos: (1) courtesy Robert Schauer; (2-3) courtesy Roger Bilham.
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