Going to the Source

When two UNC Chapel Hill applied mathematicians realized the beautiful holy lakes of the Himalayas could be a crystal ball into climate change, a confluence of can-do colleagues and a $25,000 grant offered a meaningful glimpse into global warming. 

In their fluid dynamics lab, mathematics department chair Rich McLaughlin and Kenan Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Roberto Camassa use a wave tank to study water stratification. But climate change causes even sharper stratification, and the researchers needed a natural source to gauge the impact warmer temperatures could have on water and marine life in years to come. 

“We needed a body of water that would scale up what we see in the lab, and we chose a place where temperature fluctuations would be extreme to maximize density changes,” said Camassa. “The lakes in Nepal have no outflow, and we would be able to see the salt concentration and the effects of density stratification, which we have been studying in the lab.”

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