In May 2018 Melanie summitted Everest and explored the science and technology that help climbers on the mountain. Find out what you know about the science that gets us to the highest point on Earth in this fun quiz!
How much do you know about the science that gets us to the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest?
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What’s the Khumbu icefall?
A high-altitude geyser on the Khumbu glacier – climbers can bathe in hot waters amongst ice cliffs.
A large hole in the Khumbu glacier you can only cross via narrow bridges – many people fall into the ice.
A slippery slope on the way to Everest – many people fall down the ice.
A tumble of ice blocks where a river of ice drops over a cliff – crevasses open like gashes.
Question 1 Explanation:
A tumble of ice blocks where a river of ice drops over a cliff – crevasses open like gashes. ------ It’s notorious, because it’s one of the more dangerous parts of the climb. The Icefall is a tumble of ice blocks splitting and breaking like a Snickers bar bent in half. There are looming ice cliffs and tumbling blocks. The glacier underneath is always moving imperceptibly. The way to get through this subtly-changing landscape is via a narrow path that is forged anew each year and that even changes during the 2-month Everest season. Aluminium ladders are lashed together and strung out over unskirtable crevasses so that the climbers can get across. Melanie gives a detailed account of her experience of going through the icefall in her blog about the first excursions from Everest Base Camp. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestRotations (copy & paste link into new browser window).
Can you predict if you’ll get altitude sickness?
Yes, if I can SCUBA dive, I won’t get it.
Yes, it depends on my age.
Yes, if I’m physically fit, I won’t get it.
No, it doesn’t corelate with fitness or age.
Question 2 Explanation:
No, it doesn’t corelate with fitness or age. ----- The key to preventing altitude sickness is to go as slowly as each individual body needs to acclimatise to the changing conditions. Melanie explains how we acclimatise to high altitudes in a blog post she wrote while she acclimatised in preparation for trekking to Everest Base Camp at Namche Bazaar which is 3440 metres above sea level. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestRotations (copy & paste link into new browser window).
What are inspiratory muscles?
A part of the brain that produces hallucinations in the mountains
Another term for the wings of your nose (ala of the nose)
A part of the brain that helps you feel inspired when you’re exhausted
The muscles that help you breathe
Question 3 Explanation:
The muscles that help you breathe ------ They’re the muscles that help you expand and contract your chest cavity which of course contains your lungs. The diaphragm and intercostal muscles between your ribs are always in use for respiration. In addition, you can use so-called accessory muscles of respiration when you have a stronger demand on your respiratory system, e.g. when you exercise. These include various muscles in your back and neck and even muscles in your nose! In her Fitness on Everest video, Melanie shows how she’s been working with the Department for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, and tried out technologies like POWERBreathe and MyZone, to physically prepare for climbing Everest including working on her inspiratory muscles. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestFitness (copy & paste link into new browser window).
Can you summit Everest without supplementary oxygen?
No, you’d die as soon as you take off your mask.
Yes, oxygen makes it more comfortable but it’s not necessary to stay at your optimum level of health and fitness
No, you wouldn’t have enough time to make it up and down.
Yes, but it’s riskier and fewer people have succeeded without it
Question 4 Explanation:
Yes, but it’s riskier and fewer people have succeeded without it. ----- Using supplementary oxygen doubles the chances of getting to the summit and reduces the risk of complications like frostbite. It also makes the steep descent after the summit safer. Not having supplementary oxygen does not mean instant death like losing scuba tanks under water. In her blog post about oxygen problems on Everest in 2018 Melanie explains what went wrong. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestO2Problems (copy & paste link into new browser window).
How are clothing materials like Gore-Tex able to keep you dry on Everest?
They are full of nanoscale pipes that carry the water down and let it drain out of your coat.
They are negatively charged to repel positively charged water and sweat droplets.
They create an impenetrable layer that water can’t pass through at all.
They are full of tiny holes that small warm droplets of perspiration can pass out of, but large cold rain drops can’t pass into.
Question 5 Explanation:
They are full of tiny holes that small warm droplets of perspiration can pass out of, but large cold rain drops can’t pass into. ----- GoreTex always emphasise that their jackets are waterproof and breathable. It’s important not to let any rain in, but just as important that the sweat you’ve worked up from extreme physical exercise can escape. GoreTex is stretched Teflon, the same material as on your non-stick frying pan. It’s stretched so much that it becomes a microporous structure. Microporous means that it has lots of tiny holes the size of a 50th of the diameter of a human hair. (A square inch of GoreTex fabric fits about 9 billion of these tiny holes.) Because of how water molecules work chemically, the cold water outside forms big drops that don’t fit through the tiny holes, whereas the warm water inside your jacket forms small droplets, so they can fit through the tiny holes. Stephanie Chapman at the University of Southampton explains this in Melanie’s “Science of the Summit” video on how the chemistry of clothing protects you on Everest. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestChem (copy & paste link into new browser window).
What is the so-called death zone?
The altitude at which taking off your oxygen mask leads to imminent death
The altitude at which normal human functions cannot be maintained and rapidly deteriorate, even with supplementary oxygen
The less-taken route up Everest where many climbers have died
The altitude at which oxygen is so low that climbers become weak and may struggle to think clearly
Question 6 Explanation:
The altitude at which normal human functions cannot be maintained and rapidly deteriorate, even with supplementary oxygen ----- Most climbers stay in the death zone for only a day or two – the quicker you can get up and out the better.
How many calculations does a super computer at the MET office make to predict our weather?
14 thousand billion per second
14 thousand trillion per second
14 thousand million per minute
14 thousand trillion per minute
Question 7 Explanation:
14 thousand trillion per second ----- The super computers that the MET Office used 30 years ago were less powerful than the average mobile phone now. Now, the MET’s super computer, the most powerful super computer for weather forecasting in the world, does 14 thousand trillion calculations per second, which enables it to predict the weather very accurately. Weather forecasting in the mountains is notoriously difficult. In this video Melanie speaks to Alex Deakin at the MET Office to learn why that is so and how it’s improved over the last 30 years. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestWeather (copy & paste link into new browser window).
Why do climbers wear down suits (padded onesies) to go to the summit?
They are the most suitable clothing to protect from the extreme cold.
As down is very light, it helps the climber reduce the weight they have to carry to the top.
Similar to airbags in cars, they provide inflatable padding in case of a fall.
They protect from scratches when climbing near the rough mountain surface.
Question 8 Explanation:
They are the most suitable clothing to protect from the extreme cold. ----- At high altitude when the body has less oxygen it is less able to maintain core temperature, so climbers can get cold, especially if they are only moving very slowly. It’s also very cold up above 8000m. The temperature on the summit is never above freezing and ranges from an average of about -20 OC in the warmest month of July to an average of about -36 OC in the coldest month of January. On the day of Melanie’s ascent, it was around -25OC on the summit just before sunrise.
Is there phone signal on the summit?
No, nowhere on the mountain
Yes, and Wi-Fi
No, only as high as Everest Base Camp
Question 9 Explanation:
Yes ----- in 2016 Kenton Cool was able to receive 3G phone signal from Nepal, but Melanie didn’t even carry her phone up. On the summit Melanie and Tenzing, her Sherpa, communicated with Base Camp via radio to update them about their successful summit. Melanie used Wi-Fi at Base Camp and for most of her journey through the Khumbu valley. Higher up the mountain she used her satellite phone to send text messages and make calls. Improving communications doesn’t just improve safety for climbers, but is crucial for the local population of remote environments, because it improves safety, coordination and accessibility, particularly when disasters occur such as the 2015 Nepal earthquake. In Melanie’s video “How improved communications keeps us safer climbing Everest” you can learn all about communication systems and how they work. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestComms (copy & paste link into new browser window).
Who could you meet on Everest?
Black tie dinner party guests
Question 10 Explanation:
Black tie dinner party guests ----- While some climbers claim to have seen yetis, ghosts and even aliens, such sightings have never been proven. However, a group of climbers did host a black tie dinner party on Everest in support of Community Action Nepal Charity (https://www.canepal.org.uk/).
Why do you get altitude sickness?
At high altitude it’s so cold that the body struggles to maintain its core temperature.
At high altitude the body does not get enough oxygen for normal bodily functions.
At high altitude the air contains different elements to sea level, which have a toxic effect on the body.
At high altitude humans can feel yetis’ presence which can make them feel slightly sick.
Question 11 Explanation:
At high altitude the body does not get enough oxygen for normal bodily functions. ----- As we get higher the air pressure reduces and in every lungful of air we breathe we get less oxygen than at sea level. But oxygen is vital for our body functions and survival. This means that the body has to adapt to use less oxygen for normal functioning. If it can’t do this – or if you ascend too fast for the body to make the necessary adaptations, such as making more red blood cells – then you will get altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. Altitude sickness can be fatal, so if you suffer severe symptoms you should descend to a lower altitude where the air pressure is greater and your body gets more oxygen. The best thing to do is to ascend slowly enough so that the body can adjust to the altitude and the climber experiences only mild symptoms, such as a slight headache, if anything. It’s important to know that every body is different, what’s slowly for one person might be too fast for another person. When climbing as a team, this needs to be considered. And tourists who travel from sea level to high mountains need to be aware of the dangers and plan for acclimatisation. People may feel the effects of altitude from as low as 2500 metres and sickness from 3500 metres.
How much oxygen is in the atmosphere at Everest’s summit?
50% of the oxygen at sea level
10% of the oxygen at sea level
30% of the oxygen at sea level
70% of the oxygen at sea level
Question 12 Explanation:
30% of the oxygen at sea level ----- When there’s less oxygen around we start breathing faster and deeper, so your resting respiratory rate is much higher than at sea level. At sea level we expect people to breathe about 10-12 times per minute. At high altitude we expect most people to breathe about 16-18 times per minute. Our heart rate increases too, because our body tries to pump as much haemoglobin and oxygen around the body as possible. At sea level your heart rate might be 50-60, at high altitude it’s common for it to be 90-100. To learn more about how it feels to climb Everest, watch Melanie’s video all about physiology and medicine at high altitude. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestMed (copy & paste link into new browser window).
How likely is it that you will die on a summit attempt?
As likely as when like undergoing open heart surgery
As likely as when texting while driving
As likely as when riding a motorbike
As likely as when bungee jumping
Question 13 Explanation:
As likely as when undergoing open heart surgery ----- When undergoing open heart surgery, 98.5% of patients survive, meaning that 1.5% of patients don’t survive. When you leave Base Camp for Everest, the chance for survival is about the same. There’s also a 1-2% chance of not getting back, which means that out of 200 people leaving Base Camp about three don’t get back. For her video series “Science of the Summit” Melanie visited the University of Cambridge to talk to statistician Prof. David Spiegelhalter and psychologist Sander van der Linden about the risks climbing Everest entails and why mountaineers face the challenge knowing about the dangers. Find it here: http://bit.ly/EverestRisk (copy & paste link into new browser window).
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You know a little about the science that helps us on the mountain. Learn more by exploring the resources below.
You know quite a bit about the science that helps us on the mountain! Learn more by exploring the resources below.
You know quite a lot about the science that helps us on the mountain! Learn even more by exploring the resources below.
You know lots about the science that helps us on the mountain! Keep learning by exploring the resources below.
You know very much about the science that helps us on the mountain! Keep learning by exploring the resources below.
If the quiz has made you curious, read more on Melanie’s Everest Stories blog and explore her video series “Science of the Summit”.
How much do you know about the science that gets us to the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest? May 20th, 2019Lucia Schweigert