Thermo Fisher equips the highest altitude air quality monitoring station on earth

The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world. Mountainous and sparsely populated, it is hailed as one of the cleanest areas in the world. Many tourists visit Tibet in the summer to enjoy the scenery and experience the unique culture. And this summer, the Tibetan Plateau welcomed a special group of guests, however their purpose was not sightseeing.

In early July, two colleagues from Thermo Fisher’s Environmental and Process Monitoring service team in Chengdu, the capital of China's southwest Sichuan Province, entered Tibet with two vehicles – one truckload of equipment and enough instant noodles and oxygen cylinders to last them throughout the trip. Their goal? To install the world's highest altitude ambient air quality monitoring station on the northern Everest Base Camp.

The Northern Everest Base Camp (EBC) is located at the base of Mount Everest, about 213 miles to the west of Shigatse, a city located at China’s Southwest border to Nepal, at an altitude of about 16,896 feet. Covering the central Himalaya area in Tibet, the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, one of the highest points on Earth and therefore hardest to gather information on, looked to Thermo Fisher to help build a stable air quality monitoring station to collect air statistics, monitor air quality and conduct research on air pollution in the region.

Let the journey begin
While their goal was clear and straight forward, their journey was not. Our engineers first flew to Shigatse City from Chengdu and then drove to the EBC. During the six-hour drive, one of the vehicles broke down on the road and plunged into an icy river – with a lot of determination, our colleagues were unharmed and back on the road.

Once arriving on site, our colleagues ran into some complications. In this high-altitude field with limited local conditions, our colleagues soon found out that hypoxia (a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level) is a serious threat, sleeping on the ground is hard and eating hot meals is a luxury – instant noodles and sleeping bags became everyone's local companions. Regardless of what was thrown at them, our colleagues kept the goal in sight and persevered.

Running into complications – Thermo Fisher to the rescue
Unpredictable weather, low air pressure and low concentration of monitored substances all pose challenges to air quality monitoring. To accurately and stably measure the concentration of ambient gases (including CO, CO2, SO2 and NO2), Thermo Fisher colleagues installed our enhanced trace level gas analyzers (Thermo Scientific 43iTLE, Thermo Scientific 42iTL and Thermo Scientific 48iTLE) at the station. These are our most accurate gas analyzers and have the ability to ensure stable readings, even if the concentration of these gases is very low.

Because of the high altitude and low pollution at the EBC, the concentration of ambient particulate matter (PM) is also very low. Our Thermo Scientific 1405-F TEOM Continuous Ambient Air Monitor was the best choice for PM 2.5 and PM 10 measurement under this harsh condition.

Making a difference
After one week at the EBC, the service engineer team completed the installation of the highest air quality monitoring station in the world. The station will conduct atmospheric background monitoring and provide the concentration of pollutants and its changing trend in clean areas, analyze the impact of air pollution from surrounding cities on clean areas, evaluate the health level of local ecosystem and assess the effectiveness of pollution control and environmental management in the area.

“I am very proud of our commercial, supply chain and service teams who have earnestly participated in this project. They overcame the difficulties that many other people cannot endure and enabled our customer to make the Tibetan Plateau cleaner,” said Hann Pang, Thermo Fisher China President.