Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

David Breashears Brings the Himalayan Region to Life

David Breashears Brings the Himalayan Region to Life

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The participants in the 2012 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit gained new appreciation for the changes facing the globe as David Breashears navigated the massive archive of photographic data that his team has gathered in many climbs through the Himalaya Mountains. We came away with a vivid understanding of how far glaciers have retreated in these mountains over the past 100 years.

Who better than David Breashears to bring the story to life through the means of computing? Filmmaker, adventurer, and mountaineer David Breashears has brought nature to life on film for more than 30 years. He is also the founder and executive director of GlacierWorks.

Archival photos and GlacierWorks imagery of the Himalaya Mountains demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia.
Archival photos and GlacierWorks imagery of the Himalaya Mountains demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia.

David lives a life of adventure most of us only dream about. He has led more than 40 expeditions to the Himalayan region and worked on dozens of documentary film projects since 1979. David has reached the summit of Mount Everest five times! He was also producer, director, and expedition leader for Everest, one of the most successful IMAX films ever made. He has led, and continues to lead, a fascinating life.

David’s keynote focused on his work with GlacierWorks, a non-profit organization that uses art and science to vividly document how the Himalayan glaciers are changing before our very eyes. The Himalaya Mountains are home to some of the world’s most beautiful peaks and thousands of high-altitude glaciers. The glaciers provide seasonal water flows to rivers throughout Asia. These precious flows have been disappearing at an alarming rate, however.

Since 2007, GlacierWorks teams have embarked on 10 expeditions, each carefully retracing the steps of early mountain photographers. Meticulously captured images match their predecessors’ work. Comparing the images, GlacierWorks identified an alarming loss of ice in the region.

David and his team are building a resource to share their information with students. They have been collaborating with Microsoft Research to create an immersive Internet experience that enables a richer interaction with GlacierWorks’ massive photographic database. At the heart of this collaboration is Rich Interactive Narratives (RIN). RIN combines traditional forms of storytelling with new visualization technologies to create compelling interactive digital narratives.

For the Himalayas project, the team is combining archival media and GlacierWorks imagery to demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia. The team is hopeful that an engaging and educational interactive experience will appeal to today’s students, and inspire them to investigate climate change further.

We have made David Breashears' keynote available online. I encourage you to view this incredible presentation for yourself. You can also find more information about Breashears and his work through these resources:

Harold Javid, Director, The Americas, Microsoft Research Connections

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