New York: When British climbing legend
George Mallory took his iconic 1921 photo of Mount Everest`s
north face, the mighty, river-shaped glacier snaking under his
feet seemed eternal.
Decades of pollution and global warming later, modern
mountaineer David Breashears has reshot the picture at the
same spot -- and proved an alarming reality.
Instead of the powerful, white, S-shaped sweep of ice
witnessed by Mallory before he died on his conquest of
Everest, the Main Rongbuk Glacier today is shrunken and
The frozen waves of ice pinnacles -- many of them the
size of office buildings -- are still there. But they are far
fewer, lower and confined to a narrow line.
Comparing precisely matched photographs, Breashears
determined that the Rongbuk had dropped some 97 metres in
"The melt rate in this region of central and eastern
Himalaya is extreme and is devastating," Breashears said
Wednesday at New York`s Asia Society, which is hosting the
July 13 to August 15.
Amid bad-tempered political debates over the causes and
reality of global warming, Breashears speaks literally from
He went in the footsteps of three great early
mountaineer-photographers: Mallory, Canadian-born mapping
pioneer Edward Wheeler, and Italy`s Vittorio Sella, whose work
spanned the 19th and 20th centuries.
The result is then-and-now sets from Tibet, Nepal and
near K2 in Pakistan showing seven glaciers in retreat -- not
only much diminished, but in one case having dissolved into a
"If this isn`t evidence of the glaciers in serious
decline, I don`t know what is," the soft-spoken Breashears
The melting glaciers pose more than a threat to the
"ultimate harmony" Mallory once described finding in these
Himalayan glaciers are the world`s third largest reserve
of ice after the north and south poles, and their seasonal
melt water is a crucial source for Asia`s great rivers,
including the Ganges, Indus, Mekong and Yellow.
Asia Society`s China expert Orville Schell described
Nepal as "a kind of a headquarters for the hydrology of the
whole of Asia."
As a result, rapid melting is triggering a "cascade of
effects all downstream, whether it`s animals, plants, rivers,
agriculture, people," he said.