Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Black Himalayas and Fewa Lake (part 1)

In a previous post I mentioned Dr Sharma's book about climate change in Nepal. It makes mention of Sherpas sending a rock from Mt Everest to President Obama and other heads of state to raise awareness about disappearing snow and glaciers. Although I am primarily interested in forecasting, interviewees in every country so far have brought up climate change and global warming. Below is the story of some of those concerned in Nepal.

After streamgage hunting along the Prithvi Highway we arrived in Pokhara, the scenic city most tourists use as a jump off point to the Annapurna trail. Pokhari is the Nepalese word for lake and there are many in the area, most notably Fewa Lake. The Seti River also carves deep gorges through the valley. 
Seti River in foreground, Himalayas in the back

Sarankot is a hilltop in the middle of the valley with 360 degree panorama of the mountains. We stayed overnight to watch the sunrise and our room, built into the hillside, was as as quiet as a tomb.

A friendly stray dog hangs out at the peak's observation deck, near the military outpost. He is quite possibly the fattest and happiest dog in the country. 
From Sarankot, one can look down at the upper end of Fewa Lake, where the river flows in. The water level was a little low, as is typical for this time of year but it showed signs of silting up (i.e. filling up with sediment)   along the north side of the lake.

Terrace farming in the foreground. There is also fish farming in the upper reaches of the lake. 
We visited Nirajan Sapkota, a Meteorologist at the Western Regional Climate Office of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, to learn more about climate measurements in Nepal.

Nirajan is on the far right, Fewa lake and Fishtail peak are on the left. 
Rainfall and temperature are measured at the Hydrology Department's office
Nirajan's "Ark" was a locked filing cabinet full of hand-written daily records of climate data, collected from stations that his office managed. He showed us some of the "scriptures", particularly data from Lumle, nicknamed "The Cerrapunji of Nepal". Cerrapunji is in India and is, according to some, the wettest or second wettest place on earth. Lumle gets over 4000 mm (155 inches) of rainfall per year, about four times as much as Portland, Oregon, seven times as much as Paris. 

Daily precipitation forms filled in by hand. 

Amazingly the region (including Cerrapunji) has a dry season. That means that when it rains, it rains like nobody's business. It rains every day for three months at a time.

Much of the job of the office is to collect the data, store it, and distribute it to the national headquarters in Kathmandu. The office also pays the data observers. A chart indicated the going salary for observers:

Regular (i.e. rainfall) observers: 35 rupees ($0.40 USD) per day
Agromet observer (i.e. adding temperature and humidity and perhaps pressure): 80 rupees ($0.95 USD)
Climate observer (i.e. a full raft of sensors, perhaps even including radiation and evaporation): 120 rupees ($1.40 USD) per day.

For reference, we heard that a streamgage observer got $0.25 USD per observation and that an automated streamgage cost about $2,000 USD. Installing a weather radar station in Nepal would cost $2 Million USD. You could pay 200 observers to measure rainfall every day for 70 years, or you could have one radar- take your pick.
The office computer at the hydrology department. There are 5 computers for 17 people.
When asked about his biggest challenges, nearly all the problems were data related. Problems with the database. Problems with data gaps. Problems with the data quality. Problems with the speed of the data. Problems with not sharing data among agencies. To be honest, we have heard the same thing in every country we have been in so far.

I suggested that this is the room where they keep the missing data
[Continued in part 2]


  1. You took that photo of the fish farm falling out of the sky with a broken leg, didn't you?

  2. Believe it or not it's true! I was still on crutches when we decided to go paragliding. The rationale was that if my leg was re-broken, insurance would cover it. The take off was scary, but the landing was smooth.