Mountain Cartographic & Environment Scientists objects Chinese Rail Line plan to Nepal tunneling thru Mt.Everest

Tactonically active Himalayan ranges have been causing frequent inner and outer Earthquakes, Cloudbursts, rapid Floods and natural expansion of lakes etc. and in the recent past, even the rapid climate changes further worsened the stability of the region. The recent earthquakes in the Sub-Continent region is only an example of the turbulent geography. 

The Chinese government is planning to build a railway line connecting it to Nepal, The China Daily newspaper said. The railroad was being expanded “at Nepal’s request” and would be part of the Qinghai-Tibet railway which links Tibet’s capital Lhasa with Beijing.

The new line could also include a tunnel running through the Mount Everest, China Daily said quoting Wang Mengshu from the Chinese Academy of Engineering.   The expert said that Chinese officials had begun preparatory work and the rail network was expected to be completed by 2020 and could eventually be extended to Kathmandu and further to India, providing access to a huge market for Beijing.

Indian Cartographic Scientists and various Environmentalists from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi however, have raised a serious cause of concern. “The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels,” Wang said, referring to the Everest by its Tibetan name. The challenging terrain of the Himalayas and the sharp and frequent changes in elevation and the underneath Himalayan plates is a cause of serious concern, Wang added.  The Himalayas are rather fragile as they are younger than hardened rocks of Vindhyachal in central India, Gurla Mandhata in Tibet and other rocky mountains. So, too much digging and tunneling in the already sensitive and hazardous Himalayan region may increase the occurrences of earthquakes, landslides, floods and what have you. Let us try to not disturb the present Ecology of the Himalayas for the sake of regional economic development. Man must play safe, he said.

Mount Everest is so famous for being so high that you’ve probably heard of it before. It has been known the world over since the early 1950s when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay first climbed to its awesome summit. Hillary surveyed Everest at the time and determined that it was 29,000 ft/8840m high – a figure amazingly close to the current reading of 29,035 ft/8850m, which was confirmed using radar and global positioning satellite (GPS) technology.

Using state-of-the-art technology Professor Brad Washburn of the Boston Museum of Science, the world’s foremost mountain cartographer, and his team have calculated that earth’s highest elevation is actually 7 feet higher than the previous record. That makes the official height 29,035 ft/8850m. Thanks to some engineering whizzes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who developed really light, high-tech gear, the work of Washburn was made easier because he was able to hand carry a radar device to the top of Everest where it could be positioned to measure the actual height of the mountain – underneath all that snow. GPS technology was also deployed near the summit, which uses satellite signal relays to take readings from the top of Everest. After months of crunching numbers Washburn’s team arrived at the new, official world-record elevation.

Scientists know this because they’ve been measuring the increasing height of the mountains. There have also been a lot of earthquakes recorded down deep in the mountains, which indicates continuing movement. The Himalayas are growing, but only about 2 inches a year.  The movement that took many millions of years to form the mountain range is still taking place today and is very much active. They’ve also determined that the Himalayan Mountains are still growing higher, at a rate of about 2.4 in/6.1cm per year. That’s twice as fast as previously thought. A growth rate of 2.4 in/6.1cm per year doesn’t sound like very much. But, if you think about it, that means in the last 26,000 years the Himalayans have risen almost a mile into the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere!

What caused the sea floor to be pushed up toward the sky was the result of the action of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics has only been around for about 30 years and is a theory developed by scientists from many different disciplines working together. The earth’s tectonic plates are continually moving, even today.

The Himalayas are also prone to other hazards. The Himalayas are tectonically active, and the combination of earthquakes and long, steep slopes is particularly worrying. Earthquakes happen when plate margins (edges) move past, or bump into each other. In the case of the Himalayan mountains, the continent of India is part of a plate that “crashed” into southwest Asia, but it didn’t stop there when it hit. It continued to push northward, crushing and rumpling the earth’s crust, resulting in the mountains we see today. If you look at a map of the Himalayas, you can see that the mountains look kind of like a rumpled blanket. India is still pushing northward today, raising the Himalayas even higher and higher!

The Himalayas could experience major earthquakes, according to new findings by a team of researchers at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad and Stanford University in the US. The study was published in the recently-released Nature India journal.

Their inference is based on seismic imaging of the region below Garhwal Himalayas. Seismic imaging – somewhat similar to medical imaging – is a geophysical technique to investigate sub-surface structures from measurements made at the surface.

The Himalayan range was formed, and remains active due to the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates initiated around 50 million years ago. “This convergence is manifested by shortening across the Himalaya, building up of strain and occurrence of great earthquakes,” Shyam Rai, Chief Scientist of NGRI and project leader of the Indian team told.

While scientists know that India is sub ducting under Asia, they have started studying in great detail the complexity of this collision zone recently – particularly about the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT), the fault that separates the Indian continental plate from the Asian plate. The MHT has historically been responsible for a magnitude 8 to 9 earthquake every several hundred years.

The researchers seismically imaged the sub ducting Indian plate in a transect across the Garhwal Himalaya, and related this image to the seismicity, geomorphology and tectonics of the collision zone.

Seismic images of the MHT created by the Stanford-NGRI group reveal that deformation in the Himalaya is localised on MHT.

Mount Everest range and the Himalayas are famous for their towering peaks and massive proportions which form and the Continental collisions are messy, with the ground twisting and undulating over geological time because the rocks deform in a complex way, nobody had been able to figure out what kind of terrain will result and whether there is a common underlying process.  But new research finds what happens when plates with a strong, thick crust (like India) run into other ones.  The study shows that, rather than slip beneath the Indian continent like layers of paper, China and Southeast Asia first held out against the pressure. When it built up too much, those land masses were “unclogged.

Historical records are few for the formerly closed Himalayan kingdoms, but it is clear that repeated earthquakes have caused widespread destruction over the centuries. For example, in 1255, 1/3 of the Kingdom of Nepal (i.e. c. 30,000) is said to have perished in an earthquake, and other destructive events occurred in the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. In 1934, approximately 10,000 died in an earthquake in north-east India and Nepal. This event also destroyed the famous monastery of Tengboche in the Mount Everest region. In 1991, a particularly devastating earthquake occurred in the Garhwal Himalaya of India, killing at least 1,500 people. A more recent event in the same area on March 29, 1999 killed 100. One of the main hazards is the collapse of concrete buildings, so those caught indoors have a high chance of death or injury. This was also one of the main cause of death in the August 17th, 1999 earthquake in Turkey. This event occurred at 3.00 am local time, so most people were indoors. In this case, poor building practices were blamed for large numbers of collapsed houses, and the high death toll (thought to be around 40,000).

The Chinese Railway project, if it takes off now may be completed by 2020. Indeed expenditure will be much more than what one may calculate now. Nevertheless China with a booming economy may be able to afford it. China may view it from the angle of international strategy.

Chinese economists have their eyes on a much bigger market, that is India for selling their goods at cheaper rates when the transportation cost will be cut tremendously, thanks to the proposed Kathmandu rail link.

The strategic affairs experts, except the panic stricken ones, do not give a damn to the proposed railway line because the Kathmandu rail link does not alter the present strategic scenario materially. In any case the PLA or People’s Liberation Army has its big cantonment named BA YI near Tibet-India border. They are in a dominant situation as the men and material just roll down from greater heights to lower hills whereas the Indian Army men and material have to climb up from almost plains level of Tezpur in Assam to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and beyond to borders like Thagla ridge, Namchu and what have you.

What about the Central sector of UP-Tibet border? Wont Kathmandu rail link give the Chinese Army an additional advantage in transporting men and material to the battle field? The simple answer is that China of Today and Tomorrow is not at all interested in a border skirmish or military engagement with neighbouring India as it would attract world attention and paint an upcoming world power like China in bad light. China, with its growing economic strength and military power proposes to take on the United States of America, a world power, and not waste time and energy on a regional entanglement.

The modern Chinese defence forces still cling to age-old strategy as enunciated in the ancient Chinese war text named Art of War by Suntzu wherein the sage-philosopher-cum strategist made it abundantly clear that it was not necessary to go to war to annihilate an enemy. The Chinese State must create a difficult military situation for the emerging enemy forces and weaken their will to fight to such an extent that they are unable to muster courage to come to the battle field to engage the Chinese in a shooting war.

Thus the Chinese Army will vanquish the enemy forces and achieve its desired aim without going to war. The present day PLA and the Chinese State are just doing that by surrounding India with a Pearl Necklace where each pearl or a country is favourably disposed towards China and cares not for India.

Right from Pakistan to Nepal and Myanmar, Sri Lanka to Maldives not counting small fries, the Chinese men, material and money have made heavy inroads just to browbeat India and not engage in a war. India may not be frightened as new allies like Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, not forgetting USA are with India in thwarting diabolic designs of China. The strategic situation as of now is just even and one may call it quits, notwithstanding the new rail link between China and Nepal.

As mentioned before the Ecology of the Himalayan region is fragile and may be damaged beyond repairs if too much digging for tunnel is done under the peaks of Mount Everest. As per present plan of the Chinese railway engineers the tunnel may be quite long. Yet the ventilation is likely to be of the desired level so that passengers in the train have no problem of breathing.

The new rail link between Lhasa and Kathmandu will be 540 km long and the elevation will be taken care of so that there is no mishap during running of passenger and freight trains. The train is likely to have a maximum speed of 120-140 km per hour.

The China has officially stated that the gigantic and ambitious project is being undertaken at the request of Nepal.