Extreme Alpinism in the Name of Climate Science

Ascending_leninAscending Mount Lenin. Photo: Hari Mix

Is Hari Mix a mountaineer with a science habit or a scientist with a mountaineering habit?

"I'm not sure," says the 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Earth Systems Science at Stanford University. "They're definitely related, I've always been drawn to the scale and beauty of the earth's processes, so I want to go and interact with them directly, and mountaineering is a great way to do it."

This summer, Mix climbed a number of peaks in the Pamir Mountains, mixing his summit pursuits with scientific study. At the top of Mount Lenin, a 23,406-foot peak on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Mix collected microbe samples from the highest elevation to date for a climate change research project. (Actually, he bagged several small rocks, in which the microbes live.) Dragos Zaharescu, a research associate at the University of Arizona's Biosphere 2 research program, is now analyzing the samples that Mix collected on Mount Lenin as well as from three other nearby peaks.

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), a Bozeman, Montana-based citizen science organization that seeks opportunities for climbers and other outdoor athletes to contribute to scientific research, connected Zaharescu and Mix.

Zaharescu is also analyzing other samples, collected from high on Mount Denali, an archipelago in Artic Russia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and other peaks around the world. His research focuses on how climate change may be impacting the way biotic communities in high altitudes colonize rock and break it down, initiating nutrients transfer through the ecosystem.

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