Life in the death zone: Makalu 2014
The first British ascent of Makalu (8463m) by the most dramatic and challenging route, the South-East Ridge, is currently being carried out by the British Armed Forces from all three Services under the command of Wing Comander Colin Scott MBE (RAF).
The team is working closely with the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield (through Dr Aga Nowak). The expedition also gives a rare opportunity to broaden our very limited knowledge of microbiological ecosystems in one of the most extreme environments on the planet. Such an attempt to push the boundaries of our understanding of the limits of life on Earth has so far only been carried out once at Mount Everest (Liu et al. 2007), with the samples of snow surface collected at a maximum altitude of 8000m. Today, seven years later, the Makalu 2014 expedition aims to perform a comprehensive snow sampling campaign that will start at 4000m AMSL and finish close to the top of the Makalu – 8463m.
Additionally, the team will collect glacial ice and melt water samples from the Barun glacier to contribute to the very limited knowledge we have on microbial ecosystems above 4000m.
To fulfill the objectives of this challenging mission and uncover microbial abundance, diversity and activity as well as ways of survival at those extreme altitudes, laboratory techniques such as RNA and DNA sequencing, flow cytometry, epifluorescence microscopy and ion chromatography (to name a few) will be used upon returning to the UK.
Through such an extensive sampling strategy and laboratory analyses the Makalu 2014 expedition will enable us to better understand microbial communities and their adaptation to the harsh conditions of low temperature, pressure, nutrient levels, as well as ever-changing weather; the adaptation to the environment that is called by many a “death zone” where no human body can
Image: Base camp at the 4800m and the view on the peak (8463m) Photo credit Wg Cdr C. Scott
Image: Distribution of know life on Earth according to Jones and Lineweaver (2010)
Image: Microbial communities thriving in ice. The sample was taken in Svalbard (Norwegian High Arctic) during spring 201, A. Nowak
To find out more about the progress of the expedition follow the link: http://www.makalu2014.com