Tue, 14 Jul 2020

Profile: Surveying the top of planet Earth

Xinhua
25 May 2020, 10:59 GMT+10

MOUNT QOMOLANGMA BASE CAMP, May 25 (Xinhua) -- As a professional surveyor, Chen Gang has always adopted a scientific approach to his work, obsessed with acquiring accurate data on every piece of land he has been to.

On Wednesday, he will make an attempt to survey arguably the most arduous destination in his professional life -- the summit of Mount Qomolangma, the world's highest peak.

Chen, from China's Ministry of Natural Resources, has been chosen as one of the two professional surveyors tasked with reaching the summit of Mount Qomolangma, as part of China's ongoing mission to remeasure the height of the peak.

At age 49, Chen is the oldest person in the 12-member summit-climbing squad.

If either Chen or his colleague Wang Wei makes it to summit, it will set a record for Chinese surveyors setting foot on the top of the world's highest mountain.

"Compared with the question of whether we can summit or who will summit, we focus more on whether we can accurately get all the data," he said.

"The north ridge of Mount Qomolangma is located on the Chinese side of the border. We have the obligation to know the changes of the mountain thoroughly and timely," said Chen, adding that it is a contribution Chinese surveyors make to the world.

Chen's obsession with finding the secrets of crustal movements began 12 years ago when a devastating earthquake hit China's Sichuan Province.

As a geologist, Chen was immediately sent to the affected areas and tasked with providing surveying data for the relief and reconstruction efforts.

"I will never forget the look on the faces of the ordinary people in the quake-hit areas," Chen said emotionally. "As geologists, we should have a better understanding of natural disasters. We ought to make it a historical mission to monitor and forecast disasters."

"Even though we may not be able to forecast an earthquake in our lifetime, as long as we keep trying, we will succeed," he said.

After the quake, Chen switched his major research area to basic surveying theories and spent the following years setting foot on various parts of the planet, including the highest peaks in three continents and the North and South Pole. The Himalayas was a region he frequented.

There is still great debate in academic circles at home and abroad about the uplift history and evolutionary process of the Himalayas and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, said Chen.

"Mount Qomolangma is a sensitive indicator reflecting the current situation of Indo-European plate interaction, with its exact coordinates and height long being a focal point of international studies," he said.

Therefore, it is necessary to carry out interdisciplinary research on the mountain, especially after an 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, Chen said.

After the quake hit Nepal, Chen and his team immediately set up observation points on the north ridge of Mount Qomolangma and launched a surveying project on the quake's impact on the Himalayas.

"The changes of Mount Qomolangma, often known as the 'Third Pole' of the planet, are of key significance to the study of geology in the world," said Chen. "Duty calls for our surveyors to keep returning to the area."

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