Everest gigapixel image zooms in on glacier threat

A filmmaker and mountaineer has spent five years piecing together a giant gigapixel image of Mount Everest and the Khumbu glacier, showing the Himalayan peak and its surroundings in extraordinary high-resolution detail, in an effort to highlight the effects of global warming.

American filmmaker David Breashears is the executive director of GlacierWorks, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of disappearing glaciers, and has climbed to the summit five times and visited the mountain 15 times.

Breashears has spent five years taking over 400 photos with a 300-mm lens and stitching them together to create the mega image — which is almost four billion pixels in size.

The image provides an interactive tour of the harsh and beautiful terrain of Everest and its surroundings. Viewers can take in the entire panorama as well as "deep zoom" in to see climbers from several kilometres away and tents at Base Camp.

The image is part of a larger project by GlacierWorks which includes precisely matched images of the glaciers today with historic images taken by turn of the century pioneering mountain photographers to demonstrate how the Himalayan landscape has changed.

"We believe this approach will foster a deep understanding of the changes at work in this remote and frozen region," said the GlacierWorks website.

One of the pioneer mountaineers Breashears cites as a source is Edward Oliver Wheeler, a Canadian from Ottawa. Wheeler joined the British Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921 as a surveyor and took images and panoramas of the glaciers using Canadian photo-topographical survey cameras.

Breashears calls the Himalayas the "canary in a coalmine of climate change" as its receding glaciers offer a stark visual representation of the effect of global warming.

There are nearly 50,000 high-altitude glaciers in the Himalayas covering almost 35,000 square kilometres.

The seasonal water run-off from the glaciers supplies most of the major river systems in Asia such as the Ganges and the Yangtze rivers.

"Although future impacts of glacial melt cannot be known, any disruption to the water supply will inevitably present challenges to the millions of people living downstream," said the website.

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