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[KATHMANDU] Cameras being installed high in the Nepal Himalayas will help settle the issue of whether and how fast glaciers in the high mountain region are retreating — or advancing. 

In April, the Nepal government gave the green signal for the extreme ice survey (EIS) that uses time-lapse imagery (a photographic technique in which slow action appears to be greatly speeded up), conventional photography and video to document the changing nature of glacial ice and visually communicate the changes to local communities.

The EIS project hopes to provide credible evidence that Himalayan glaciers are receding due to global warming. Projections by the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by the year 2035 were later challenged as lacking scientific basis (see Glacier dispute reveals holes in research).

"Once the footage is released, no one will be able to dispute it [receding glaciers], because the image of receding glaciers will be right before their eyes,'' Prashant Singh, director of development and marketing at the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal, told SciDev.Net.

To fully understand glacial dynamics, the project will incorporate historical images, satellite imagery and time-lapse photography. All data will be open source, used to develop models, predictions and policies. This is the first time that such a survey is being conducted in the Himalayas. Similar surveys have been conducted in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska.

Under the project cameras will be set up in three locations around the Khumbu glacier of Mount Everest and two near a hanging glacier on Ama Dablam (hanging glaciers originate on the wall of a glacier valley and descend only part of the way to the surface of the main glacier). Each camera will shoot at 30-minute intervals during daylight, accumulating over 8,000 images every year for a period of two years. The stills will eventually be stitched into a stunning 60-second time-lapse clip.

The cameras, powered by a combination of solar panels and batteries, will be mounted on vertical rock faces. Every six months, a technician will check the cameras and collect stored data for analysis.

Singh said the cameras will have no negative environmental impact and be completely dismantled upon the completion of the study.