Project "Hi-Climb" Rises In The Nepal

Posted on 08.23.2015

Prof. Wang-Ping Chen spent two and a half months in late 2002 installing 75 seismometer stations throughout Nepal as the first phase of Project HI-CLIMB kicked in. (see Geoscience 2000 for details on Chen's research). Ultimately, the project will collect data from 250 stations throughout Nepal and Tibet.

HI-CLIMB examines how the lithosphere deforms over its entire thickness during orogeny; specifically how the upper crust couples with the mantle portion of the continental lithosphere. Chen's project will provide the first complete profile of the Himalayan-Tibetan collision zone, extending from the the deformation front across both the Lower and the Higher Himalayas, then onto the central Tibetan Plateau. Dense spacing- about five kilometers apart - of the broadband, high-resolution seismic array provides unprecedented resolution for imaging deep-seated structures, particularly those in the enigmatic lower crust, below the Moho, and throughout the transition zone of the mantle down to depths of about 1,000 km. Installing seismic arrays is back-breaking work. By the end of his stay in Nepal, Chen lost about 15 pounds and his work pants were in shreds-he ultimately cut them into shorts, then tossed them. Setting up a single station took a team of three or four people at least one day. The group had carry all the instruments (including two or more 50-pound batteries) over rugged ground. Then, they dug an enormous pit to bedrock, laboriously leveled both the pit and the instrument, installed and insulated the instrument, and dug a drainage ditch. Finally, they covered everything back up with plywood, tarp and dirt.

For each station, Chen also had to get permission from the government and to negotiate with whoever owned the land. One time Chen and his party walked into a village entirely controlled by Maoist insurgents. Luckily, the Nepali scientists on the team managed to extricate the group.

"We skipped that site. We were just happy to be alive," notes Chen.

The project has been successful, for the stations are continuously recording ground vibrations, and will accumulate several terabytes of information in three years. That data is assembled in Katmandu, sent to a dedicated machine at the University of Illinois to be processed by two of Chen's students, Tai-Lin (Ellen) Tseng and Zhaohui Yang. Chen plans to go to Tibet in the spring of 2003 to continue the installations.

"We're either incredible heroes or incredible fools," said Chen, with a grin.