How does solar radiation affect climbers on Mount Everest?

How does solar radiation affect climbers on Mount Everest?

How Does Solar Radiation Affect Climbers on Mount Everest?

Mount Everest, located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas, is the earth’s highest mountain above sea level. Testifying to its historical and geographical significance, a myriad of aspiring mountaineers around the globe are drawn to Mount Everest each year. However, climbing the world’s highest peak comes with unique challenges. One of the significant concerns is the enormous solar radiation levels experienced at such high altitudes.

Solar Radiation: The Direct Impact on Mountain Climbers

Solar radiation, the radiant light and heat from the Sun, can significantly affect climbers at high altitudes. When scaling Mount Everest, the higher altitude coupled with the mountain’s snow-covered surface leads to increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV radiation is classified into three types based on wavelength: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Most of the UVC is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, but in higher altitudes like Everest, more of UVC can reach the surface.

Increased Risk of Sunburn and Skin Cancer

For every 1,000 feet of elevation, the intensity of UV radiation increases by approximately 4%. In other words, a climber on Mount Everest is exposed to about 120% more UV radiation than at sea level. This intensified exposure leads to a higher risk of sunburns and long-term skin damage, potentially leading to skin cancer. Hence, climbers should always use high-SPF sunscreen, regardless of the weather conditions.

Increased Risk of Snow Blindness

Without proper eye protection, the heightened UV radiation at Mount Everest’s summit could lead to photokeratitis, commonly known as snow blindness. This painful eye condition, akin to sunburn of the eye, can result in temporary or even permanent vision damage. Climbers must use high-quality glacier goggles that block 100% of the UV radiation to protect their eyes.

Galvanized Dehydration

High solar radiation also contributes to rapid water loss from the body, leading to dehydration. Dehydration, combined with physical exertion and altitude sickness, can cause severe health risks for climbers. It is essential to stay properly hydrated, and climbers are advised to drink plenty of water throughout the adventure.

The Indirect Effect of Solar Radiation: Weather Patterns

Besides the direct impacts on the human body, solar radiation also affects the local weather patterns on Mount Everest. The rapid heating and cooling of the snow-covered peaks under intense solar radiation cause erratic and extreme weather conditions. These weather shifts, posing challenges to climbers, can arrive rapidly and without warning, which emphasises the importance of having an experienced guide, and always remaining aware and cautious while making the ascent.


While climbing Mount Everest is a dream that many aspire to, it should not be undertaken casually. Awareness of the risks posed by high solar radiation, and the necessary prophylactic measures, are crucial for a successful and safe expedition.

FAQs about Solar Radiation on Mount Everest

1. Does solar radiation increase with altitude?

Yes, solar radiation does indeed increase with altitude. For every 1,000 feet ascended, solar radiation can increase by about 4%. Consequently, at the height of Mount Everest, climbers can confront about 120% more solar radiation than at sea level.

2. Can solar radiation on Mount Everest cause skin cancer?

The prolonged exposure to intensified levels of UV radiation at high altitudes does increase the risk of long-term skin damage, which could potentially lead to skin cancer. Therefore, high-SPF protective sunscreen is vital for climbers.

3. What is snow blindness?

Snow blindness, medically known as photokeratitis, is an eye condition akin to sunburn of the eye. Prolonged exposure to intense solar radiation without proper protection can lead to this painful condition, which can cause temporary or permanent vision loss.

4. Can solar radiation at higher altitudes cause dehydration?

Absolutely. Enhanced levels of solar radiation lead to rapid water loss from the skin, contributing to dehydration, especially when combined with physical exertion and altitude sickness. Thus, maintaining proper hydration is vital while climbing Mount Everest.

5. Does solar radiation affect Mount Everest’s weather patterns?

Yes, solar radiation contributes significantly to the extreme and unpredictable weather patterns observed on Mount Everest. The rapid heating and cooling of the snow-covered peaks trigger erratic weather changes that can pose challenges to the climbers.