We used drones to take photos from the air.

This LIDAR scan shows us the shape of the land.

Bird's‑eye View

To be standing in the shadow of Mount Everest is thrilling. As The Geographer at the National Geographic Society, I normally work in an office at headquarters in Washington, D.C. I work with all the teams that make maps and process geographic data at the Society. Some days, I design maps. Other times, I work with a team to collect map data with one of our research programs. And that means that I get to do field research, like traveling
to Everest!

For the Everest expedition, my role on the science team was to map the area around Everest Base Camp and all of the Khumbu Glacier, the highest glacier on Earth. To do this work, we collect mapping data using tools on the ground, on drones, and on helicopters. We photograph all the areas we want to map, and we use a technology called LIDAR. It uses a beam of light to measure the shape of the land. Then we bring this data home to create a map.

Using drones at high altitude is hard work for the drone and for us! The air is thinner here, and the blades of the propellers on the drones need to be steeper to have more “bite” as they spin. The camera on the drone points down at Earth and takes detailed pictures. We can stitch all the pictures together into a big mosaic. This is called a photo‑map, and we use it to see what the environment looks like today. We can then compare it to past maps.

A team member used a drone to help map Everest Base Camp.

Our team practiced taking an ice core.

Ice Cores

Each year, the glacier has new snowfall that turns into ice. Over time, the layers build up into a thick mass of ice. Our team took ice cores at several locations along the route to the summit. What’s an ice core, and why do we need them? We use a big drill with a hollow center that drives down into the snow and ice. When we pull it out, we have a long piece of ice that is a cross section of the glacier.

Once we have the ice cores, we can study the layers and find out what the climate was like in the past. Our glacier scientists also collected snow samples to see how much pollution is in the snow.

Weather Stations

One way to measure the changing climate is to set up automatic weather stations, or AWS. Our expedition put up the highest AWS in the world! We set up five of these stations. Each will measure temperature, precipitation, air pressure, and the amount of solar radiation. Each will send data via satellites to a computer, so we can monitor the weather. That’s the “automatic” part.

As we collect data over months and years, we can see how the weather compares to other places in Nepal and around the world. The longer the record you have, the better you can assess how the climate is changing. One benefit of AWS data is that meteorologists can make better forecasts for those who are climbing Everest, which will make climbing safer.

The team set up a weather station.

Science and Exploration

The weeks passed. It wasn’t easy. We had to wait out snowstorms and endure getting sick. We had to watch for avalanches and understand how high altitude would affect our bodies.

Yet, we all returned home safely. With the data we collected and will continue to collect, we can now spread the word about what is happening to our high mountains.


The expedition has collected new data about weather and climate. To find out more, visit natgeo.com/everest