Feature: Hunting invisible "treasure" on Mt. Qomolangma
LHASA, May 7 (Xinhua) -- In the early summer of May, there is still frequent wind and snow at the foot of Mount Qomolangma. At 5,200 meters above sea level, a group of "treasure hunters" came to the base camp of the world's highest peak.
Every day at dawn, they set out from their tents with shovels, picks, and containers of various sizes and shapes, heading for glaciers, creeks and the vast wilderness in search of invisible "treasures."
They are members of glacial microbial research squad from the Center for the Pan-third Pole Environment of Lanzhou University in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province.
As part of a larger scientific research team consisting of more than 270 members carrying out a comprehensive scientific expedition on Mount Qomolangma, these researchers are responsible for collecting microbial samples invisible to the naked eye and analyzing the ecological conditions of Mount Qomolangma area.
"Our work looks like 'digging for treasure,'" said Wang Wenqiang, a doctoral student at Lanzhou University, adding that they collect microbial samples from different environments such as ice, snow, air, soil, runoff and lakes at altitudes between 5,200 meters and 6,500 meters.
The river water with the inflow of glacier meltwater is still ice cold in May. The researchers need to put a container into the river and wait for one day to pull it out for sampling and water body monitoring.
Zhang Weizhen, who leads the water sampling work at the East Rongbuk glacier area, said the samples should immediately be shaded once they are collected.
"If the sun shines on the samples, our work will be in vain," she said.
They have bread and cookies prepared in advance for lunch and do not return to the base camp until dark. After their return, they still need to process the collected samples.
Liu Yang, another researcher, said the filtration and fixation of bacteria, viruses and other organisms in the water samples have to be completed within 48 hours.
"If the processing is not done timely, the microbial community structure and viral characteristics in the water body will change greatly, affecting the experimental results," said Liu.
Zhang said their team will provide first-hand information for the research of runoffs at Mount Qomolangma glaciers, such as the evaluation of the carbon sink potential of the runoffs.
According to the plan, the glacier microbial research team is expected to complete their mission around May 20.