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Into thick(er) air? Oxygen availability at humans’ physiological frontier on Mount Everest

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posted on 2020-12-09, 15:15 authored by Tom Matthews, L Baker Perry, Timothy Lane, Aurora Elmore, Arbindra Khadka, Deepak Aryal, Dibas Shrestha, Subash Tuladhar, Saraju Baidya, Ananta Gajurel, Mariusz Potocki, Paul Mayewski
Global audiences are captivated by climbers pushing themselves to the limits in the hypoxic environment of Mount Everest. However, air pressure sets oxygen abundance, meaning it varies with the weather and climate warming. This presents safety issues for mountaineers, but also an opportunity for public engagement around climate change. Here we blend new observations from Everest with ERA5 reanalysis (1979-2019) and climate model results to address both perspectives. We find that plausible warming could generate subtle but physiologically relevant changes in summit oxygen availability, including an almost 5% increase in annual minimum VO2 max for 2°C warming since preindustrial. In the current climate we find evidence of swings in pressure sufficient to change Everest’s apparent elevation by almost 750 m. Winter pressures can also plunge lower than previously reported, highlighting the importance of air pressure forecasts for the safety of those trying to push the physiological frontier on Mt. Everest.

History

School

  • Social Sciences and Humanities

Department

  • Geography and Environment

Published in

iScience

Volume

23

Issue

12

Publisher

Cell Press

Version

  • VoR (Version of Record)

Rights holder

© The authors

Publisher statement

This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Cell Press under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0). Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Acceptance date

2020-10-16

Publication date

2020-11-20

Copyright date

2020

ISSN

2589-0042

Language

  • en

Depositor

Dr Tom Matthews Deposit date: 28 October 2020

Article number

101718

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