Collecting USGS Earthquake Data in the Khumbu, May 2015

Post #168- Collecting USGS Earthquake Data in the Khumbu, May 5 2015.
Happy Cinco De Mayo Everyone! Of course over on this side of the planet, the holiday here kind of goes un-noticed. But, nevertheless what does go noticed is the incredible resilience of the Nepali People. Everywhere I have journeyed to in this great Khumbu Valley, folks are now going about their business, whether its rebuilding a wall, gathering supplies and blankets and tents for friends, or helping to start building a new home. While I know for sure people here in the Everest region are not as affected as other places like Langtang north of Kathmandu, everyone has an understanding that things are getting better, because better is the only way.
Earthquake Data for the USGS With that being said, I wanted to talk about the day I spent out collecting some important Earthquake Data for the USGS. Just by the most random inquiry from a former student of mine from when I was teaching in graduate school, I was able to stay near Namche and make a difference. Like I mentioned in my last post, I read an interesting article on National Geographic about these scientists who, because of the earthquake, wont be able to access a number of data locations across the Himalaya. These data sites are full of recorded readings from the Earthquake and subsequent aftershocks last week. If all the data is combined and read it can “paint the picture” according to John from the USGS, about possible displacement of the landscape including the height or any changes to Mt. Everest. If we don’t access the sites before about 14 days time, the data gets overwritten and lost forever. What an incredible coincidence it was to get an email about helping out right after I had read the Nat Geo article! I was happy to do so!
My former student Victoria set me up with John with the USGS and he told me to stand by at my lodge in Namche. I did some side trips to villages over the weekend, including Thame and then I got an email from John. He said to stay put and Lt. Col KC (real name protected) would be stopping by the hotel to bring me a key to the site. One fine afternoon KC dropped by as I was doing some writing. He was a handsome young lad in a Nepali Military Hat but wearing a hoody sweatshirt. He gave me an envelope. I invited “KC” to stay for tea and some chocolate cake. We chatted about our families at home and about the relief efforts here in Nepal. Before I knew it, the Colonel was headed back to his helicopter and I had the key and instructions from John as to where I needed to go up to the next morning.
I went to sleep somewhat anxious about my task. Would I be able to locate the site? Would the data be intact? More importantly, would my computer work to be able to download everything correctly?
At first light I was up and at em. No time to waste. I checked my email for the instructions sent to me for the site, and another wrench is tossed my way. “Access the data with your Ethernet port on your computer.” Ugh- “I have an Ethernet port but no Thunderboldt adapter….how on earth can I download the data?” I say to John in a quick phone call. “No worries” he tells me……”go see Tenjing Sherpa at the Alpine Lodge.” In a few minutes I begin to climb out of Namche to the lodge and Tenjing opens a tent he is sleeping in outside the lodge. “Good Mooorning Sir.” Says Tenjing. He tells me John called me, and first we have tea and breakfast as the morning sun hits us overlooking Namche. What a gorgeous morning it was, I was truly blessed to be in this position, what an adventure! After breakfast we went down to a local internet store where I met Mingma, a friend of Tenjing’s, Mingma was getting his computer fixed and was about to take his computer home to Khumjung which was up near the site on his way. What Luck, Mingma had an Ethernet port on his computer and so was happy to help. “On one condition”, he tells me, “You have to carry the computer up there.” What a deal….Sounds good to me!
So we were up and away by 730 now, warm and clear, the Himalayas were stunning. Up the trail we went through a schrub and Juniper forest. Eventually the path flattend out and we were on a stunning plateau where Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku were all in clear view. “Not much further” Mingma Said, and we continued on. Up on a hill near 13,000’ and I looked across a small bumpy and grassy field with a few yaks around me and saw what I was looking for. It was a solar panel and a box….pretty simple. This had to be it! In the Shadow of Everest and with Himalayas all around I pulled out my key as MIngma filmed me opening the box. Jackpot!
7.9 quake and a 6.9 quake aftershockI proceeded to take a look at the contents inside and began my work connecting to the Ethernet Data Port on a GPS and the rest is history. Mingma was generous enough to serve as my camera crew. A quick called to John in Kathmandu to confirm some files, and I had the data downloaded in no time. What an incredible setting, and it felt great to know I was pulling data from the 7.9 quake and a 6.9 quake aftershock the next day.
I am Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about the results of this earthquake. Did Everest get Taller or Shorter? What other changes occurred in the earth’s crust in this area? Hopefully this data will add to the other sites they have as well across the Himalaya.
Once the collection was done, we closed up, locked the site again and Mingma was generous enough to invite me to his home in Khumjung, about 30 minutes away. I had never been to Khumjung, so I walked across a small pass with him, and descended a bit into a small flat valley that was tucked away between some rocky bluffs, Juniper forests and the peak of Khumbilia (5700m).
Khumbjung School Yard Entering Khumbjung we walked past the School Yard, where many young kids were lining up and also about to play yard games like soccer or Volleyball. Across from the school house we arrived at Mingma’s Home. It was only slightly damaged by the Earthquake. A few cracks here and there and rocks fallen from the frame but for the most part the place was alright. I met Mingma’s wife, and then soon after the kids from the school yard came across on a break. I was generously treated to fresh potatoes from their garden which was dipped in salt, and we drank some milk tea. They were very generous to have me as a visitor. The potatoes were delicious. IN addition to their two sons and daughter, Mingma’s home was also open to many school kids. You could tell that the kids always came over on their school breaks it was a fun atmosphere and a nice place to relax. It reminded me of home years ago when all the neighborhood kids would come over to play and do things.
Neighborhood KidsI handed out some of my ski-mountaineering and climbing bookmarks. The kids loved them and all said thanks. All the kids seemed so happy and just going about their everyday lives which appear to be in good order in Khumjung. We laughed and joked about my GoPro camera when I pulled it out, and the kids all asked me where I was from. I snapped a few photos as well.
Soon I had to get going, the kids hugged me goodbye and I thanked Mingma for his hospitality and help with the computer and the data. I was so humbled by the generosity and the relaxing time I spend in Khumjung. I took one lap around town to see that the village was in pretty good shape. I had heard that there was a lot of damage and that was true to a certain extent, but for every solid house standing there, the damage was confined to older structures. Yes, there are people living in tents until they can repair or build new homes, but the people have plenty to Eat and most are doing fine. Supplies to rebuild again are coming up the trail or have arrived.
KhumbuSatisfied with my day I headed back to Namche, caught a final glimpse of Everest, and felt happy with how everything went. I have a hard time believeing this wis the last time I’ll ever be here near Everest, and I am pretty sure I might be back several times in the future before my career is done. Next I’ll be heading down out of the Khumbu en Route to Kathmandu and will be interested to see the lower valleys to Lukla and Eventually get a first hand look at Kathmandu after I fly from Lukla.
Thanks again for all of your support and good wishes. I have been getting lots of emails from people asking about foundations you can send supplies or money to for the efforts here. I will respond to your emails as soon and best as I can.
Keep Climbing! Visit website homepage for further details.
Dr. Jon
Khumbu Mountain View