Message from ...

the Himalayas

Working on the roof of the world

I’m on a research expedition high up in the Himalayas, at Rara Lake — Nepal’s largest freshwater lake. We spend days chugging along in our jeep at 10 kilometres an hour until we reach the lake. Along the way, we install weather stations and soil moisture sensors. We’re immersed in a huge variety of landscapes and climate zones over the course of our journey.

My wife and I spent four months trekking through the Himalayas on our honeymoon in 1999. It turned out to be the start of a long and close relationship with Nepal, its mighty Himalayan peaks and its people. We lived and worked there for two years in 2003 and 2004 and returned for many research expeditions. I study the impact of climate change on water cycles in the high mountains, especially the Himalayas. You could do that using computer models or satellite images, but you’ll need to take measurements in the mountains and combine those with other methods to truly understand how the system works.

My close relationship with Nepal began during my honeymoon in 1999

We crossed the low-lying part of the immense Karnali River basin earlier on in the expedition. I’m travelling with a PhD student who is studying the combined impact of changing land use and climate change on the flow of water to the lowlying Bardia National Park. The research is being conducted as part of the Save the tiger! project, a collaboration between ecologists, sociologists, hydrologists and geologists aimed at understanding changes in the national park’s tiger habitat.

It proves to be an eventful trip, and we experience an earthquake on one of the first nights: its epicentre is just a few dozen kilometres away. Still, it’s a dream come true to be surrounded by tigers, crocodiles and tropical vegetation in the lowland plains one day and find ourselves among the world’s highest snow-capped mountains — crucial to human and animal water supplies — just a few days later.

Walter Immerzeel in Nepal op een boot

Walter Immerzeel
studied Environmental Sciences and obtained his PhD at the Utrecht University’s Department of Physical Geography in 2008. As professor of mountain hydrology, he studies the impact of climate change on glaciers in Asia and the availability of water to the millions of people living downstream. Among other honours, Walter received a Veni and Vidi Grant from the Dutch Research Council and was awarded the prestigious Macelwane medal by the American Geophysical Union.