Understanding the Effects of Low Pressure at the Summit of Mount Everest
Mount Everest, a peak in the Himalayas, is the highest mountain above sea level globally, with a peak at a staggering 8848.86 meters. It is a coveted destination for climbers and mountaineers worldwide due to its challenging conditions and the unrivaled sense of accomplishment that summiting this mountain brings.
One of the many challenging conditions climbers face is the noticeable decrease in air pressure at higher altitudes, particularly at the summit of Mount Everest. This article explores the effects of this low atmospheric pressure on human body and why it makes climbing Mount Everest such a feat.
Understanding Air Pressure and Its Relationship with Altitude
Air pressure, often known as atmospheric pressure, is the force exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere. Generally, air pressure decreases as altitude increases. This is because air weighs less at greater heights, and thus exerts less force on the objects beneath it. At sea level, the average air pressure is about 1,013 millibars. However, at the summit of Mount Everest, it drops to about 337 millibars, about a third of the sea-level pressure.
Effects of Low Pressure on the Human Body
Essentially, low atmospheric pressure reduces the amount of oxygen that can be inhaled with each breath. The body responds naturally by breathing faster and deeper, a condition medically referred to as hyperventilation.
The first and most common effect of low-pressure is altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. It usually occurs when a person ascends to altitudes above 2,500 meters quickly without acclimatization.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
At extreme heights like Mount Everest’s summit, other serious conditions may develop like HAPE. This severe form of altitude sickness occurs when fluid accumulates in the lungs—a potentially fatal condition if not treated swiftly.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
Another severe condition is HACE, where fluid builds up in the brain due to low atmospheric pressure. This can lead to disorientation, confusion, and even loss of consciousness.
Coping with the Low Pressure at the Summit
Despite the extreme conditions, many mountaineers aspire to conquer Everest. They prepare themselves to cope with the low atmospheric pressure and the resulting low oxygen levels at high altitudes. Some of the key measures to manage this include gradual acclimatization by ascending slowly, maintaining a healthy diet and hydration, using supplemental oxygen and medications, and immediate descent if severe altitude sickness symptoms develop.
Acclimatization is the most effective way to prepare the body to withstand low pressures at high altitudes. It involves ascending slowly to allow the body enough time to adjust to the changing conditions.
Most climbers use supplemental oxygen to lessen the effects of low pressure. However, with the increasing concerns about the environmental impacts of discarded oxygen cylinders on Everest, some climbers are trying to summit without the use of supplemental oxygen.
The low pressure at the summit of Everest significantly contributes to the considerable challenge that climbing this mountain presents. Understanding the effects and dangers of low-pressure at high altitudes is crucial for any climber looking to conquer the world’s highest peak. If negotiated tactfully, it can add to the sense of the tremendous achievement one experiences on reaching the summit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is atmospheric pressure?
A: Atmospheric pressure or air pressure is the force exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere. It generally decreases when altitude increases. At sea level, the average air pressure is about 1,013 millibars. At the summit of Mount Everest, the air pressure drops to about 337 millibars.
Q2. What is altitude sickness?
A: Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a condition that typically occurs when a person ascends rapidly to an altitude above 2,500 meters without proper acclimatization. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness.
Q3. Why is the pressure so low at the summit of Mount Everest?
A: The pressure is low at the summit of Mount Everest due to its extreme height. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases because the air weighs less at greater heights. Consequently, the air at Everest’s summit exerts less force, translating to low atmospheric pressure.
Q4. Can the body adapt to the low pressure at high altitudes?
A: Yes, the human body can adapt to the low pressure at high altitudes through a process known as acclimatization. Climbers generally ascend slowly, spending days or weeks at various altitudes to allow their bodies to adjust to the changing atmospheric conditions.
Q5. Are there any long-term health effects from climbing Mount Everest?
A: Long-term health effects can occur if severe forms of altitude sickness, such as HAPE and HACE, are not addressed promptly. Chronic Mountain Sickness (CMS) can also occur from prolonged exposure to high altitudes, characterized by an excess of red blood cells, which can lead to heart disease among other complications.