Mount Everest: Then and Now

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By Christina Larson

Having just written about the efforts of Chinese and Tibetan observers to grasp the impact of melting glaciers (and drying streams) in the Himalayas, I wanted to add a note about another way to visualize changes underway as the planet warms.

During one of his famed attempts to ascend Mt. Everest in 1921, the British adventurer George Mallory and his entourage took photographs of what they saw. In 2007, American mountaineer David Breashears stood in the same place Mallory had been, and his team took a second high-resolution photograph. Breashears, who now works with GlacierWorks and the Asia Society, wanted to record the changes in the ice sheets.

Below is a graphic that combines that 1921 photograph and its 2007 counterpart. Both show the north face of Mt. Everest, as seen from Tibet. The river of ice snaking downhill is known as the main Rongbuk glacier. Here Breashears estimates the glacier has lost 320 vertical feet in ice mass. Christina Larson is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. Follow or message her on Twitter at @larsonchristina.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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