Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dr. Baker Perry: Rolex Explorer II

...Rolex Coolness...



A Climate Scientist Wears an Explorer II

By Danny Crivello

In 2019, Dr. Baker Perry and his team of explorers and scientists went on the largest scientific expedition ever undertaken to the world’s highest mountain, installing the two highest operating automated weather stations on Mount Everest, at 27,000 feet, an exploit that would earn them a Guinness World Record

More recently, in February 2021, Dr. Perry installed the highest weather station in the Americas—just below the summit of Tupungato Volcano, in the Southern Andes. 

Pictured above is Dr. Baker Perry, the co-lead for the 2021 National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Tupungato Volcano Expedition. During the expedition, the team explored a critical water tower in the Southern Andes by placing the highest weather station in the Southern and Western Hemispheres near the summit of Tupungato Volcano.

I interviewed Dr. Perry for this article. Dr. Perry is extremely passionate about his mission and is a self-described "lifelong mountaineer." He's also a climate scientist recognized as a top expert in his field. His work has been published in dozens of scientific journals and conference proceedings. With these new stations installed, scientists now have a window into atmospheric processes in the high Chilean Andes, as the mountains provide critical water to millions of inhabitants, according to Dr. Perry.

"In both of the Himalayas and in the Andes, climate change is not some abstract idea. It’s direct. It’s observable and it’s something people are very concerned about because it’s had direct impacts on their livelihoods—through the water, through their livestock, through their crops and ability to irrigate," Dr. Perry said.

I admire the work climate scientists do. I sometimes fail to appreciate how much those experts are also in top physical shape, setting forth on brutally demanding expeditions. Whether on mountains or in the sea, theirs is a generation of explorers who no longer explore for the sake of discovery, but to find ways to safeguard the planet and conserve the oceans. They exhibit an intellectual and physical power few people in the world can match.

During the Tupungato expedition, in Chile, deep snow prevented the horses and mules from reaching the highest camps near the top of the Tupungato Volcano. Dr. Perry told me explorers and scientists had to porter more and heavier loads while operating at high altitude. They also had to use a helicopter to move the weather station components higher. 

"The helicopter pilots were true professionals and went above and beyond to ensure a successful expedition," Dr. Perry said. "We were pinned in our tents in a ferocious ground blizzard at high camp just after installing the station." 

Located on Tupungato’s summit at an altitude of 6,505 meters, or 21,341 feet, the new weather station will collect data to be used to analyze weather modeling and water-resource management.

"It's one thing to have data from aircraft and satellites and weather balloons of the atmosphere but that's not the same thing when we're talking about direct surface observation," he said. "And these mountain observations are absolutely critical for understanding how the climate is changing."

During the Tupungato expedition, Dr. Perry was equipped with the über-resistant, über-legible Rolex Explorer II with white dial and orange GMT hand. That white dial, I thought, looked perfect surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

"One of the features I found most helpful is the 24-hour hand which I set to Universal Time Coordinated," Dr. Perry told me. "This allowed me to make a direct conversion from the UTC numerical model weather forecast data delivered to our satellite phone." 

"And despite the extreme cold, high winds, blizzard conditions, and high altitude, the Explorer II was exceptionally dependable and kept us on schedule."

A big thank-you to the National Geographic Society for providing me with never-before-published images of the Tupungato Expedition. Photo credits: Armando Vega.