Alton C. Byers

Alton C. Byers CV

INSTAAR Senior Research Associate and Faculty

  • Mountain Geographer
  • Co-Manager, High Mountains Adaptation Partnership (HiMAP)
  • National Geographic Explorer
  • Expert, National Geographic Expeditions


  • PhD: University of Colorado Boulder, 1987

Contact Information

(Office) 304 636-6980
406 Westridge Drive, Elkins, WV 26241


Applied research, alpine conservation and restoration programs, climate change impacts, highland-lowland interactive conservation, and mountain photography.

Research Interests

For the foreseeable future, I intend to focus on four main initiatives that include: (a) continued growth and expansion of the High Mountains Adaptation Partnership (HiMAP), (b) glacial lake risk reduction in the Nepal Himalayas (we recently received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation in June to continue our work in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal), (c) the impacts of yarsugumba (“caterpillar fungus”) harvesting and globalization on remote alpine ecosystems of the Himalaya ($19,550 grant received from the National Geographic Society in May 2015), and (d) completion of my book, Change: 60 Years of Climate, Culture, and Landscape Change in the Mt. Everest Region of Nepal.


Following receipt of my Ph.D. from the Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1987, I accepted a two-year position as Co-Manager of the Ruhengeri Resource Analysis and Management (RRAM) project in Ruhengeri Prefecture, Rwanda, volunteering as Scientific Advisor to the late Dian Fossey’s Karasoke Research Center. Following this I was hired by the then-Woodlands Mountain Institute to assist in the design, fundraising, and co-management of the new Makalu-Barun National Park and Conservation Area in eastern Nepal, where I lived for two years (1993-95) in a remote Nepali village with my young family. Upon my return In 1995, I established, funded, and worked as Director of the Andean Program with a base of operations in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, turning the program over to a Peruvian national in 1997 who, with my regular fundraising and technical assistance, has managed the project ever since. This period of my career corresponded with a growing interest in alpine conservation and restoration, particularly in tourist-impacted regions of the Himalayas and Andes, where I combined applied research with community awareness building to form several local Alpine Conservation Councils in Nepal and Peru that remain effective to this day. I became Director of Appalachian Programs in 1998, developing a range of local conservation, mountain education, and teacher training programs, including the School for Mountain Studies that regularly took undergraduates on field courses to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal and Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash in Peru. In the 2000s I added climate change impacts on high mountain environments to my ongoing portfolio of alpine research and conservation, landscape change, and glacial lake management and risk reduction interests, funding and hosting three international, field-based climate change workshops in Nepal and Peru between 2009 and 2013. The High Mountains Adaptation Partnership (HiMAP), that I have co-managed since 2012 with the University of Texas at Austin, has been a particular highlight in my career, where I developed approaches to integrating results from our glacial lake rapid reconnaissance research into the local adaptation plan of action (LAPA) process. After 25 years at TMI of project implementation, applied research, cross-programmatic and institutional fundraising, I decided to leave TMI in April, 2015 to pursue a range of new writing, research, and high mountain projects and initiatives, and currently serve as Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) in Boulder.


  • Honorary Lifetime Member, Nepal Geographical Society, 2018
  • Center for Asian Studies/Visiting Scholar, University of Colorado Boulder, 2018
  • Rolex Awards for Enterprise Finalist, Rolex, Geneva, Switzerland, 2016
  • Fulbright Senior Specialist,Tribhuvan University, Nepal, Fulbright, 2016
  • Featured in "A Celebration of Faculty Achievement 2016", University of Colorado Boulder, 2016
  • National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic, 2012
  • Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal, Mountain Legacy, 2007
  • David Brower Conservation Award, American Alpine Club, 2006
  • Distinguished Career Award, Association of American Geographers, Mountain Geographer Specialty Group, 2004
  • Mountain Steward Award, Nature Conservancy, 2000
  • Rolex Awards for Enterprise Finalist, Rolex, Geneva, Switzerland, 2001


Research Statement

My research centers on:

  • Climate change analysis and adaptation in high mountain environments.
  • Alpine protection and restoration.
  • Program design, management, and implementation.
  • Applied, management-oriented field research (physical and social sciences).
  • Monitoring and evaluation methods.
  • Parks and protected areas.

See more about HiMAP's work with assessment of glacial lakes and climate adaptation in these videos:

See a photo exhibit about changing Himalayan glaciers on the American Alpine Club website.

Thinking about graduate school?

Undertaking a graduate degree can be an exciting and challenging step toward the pursuit of mountain geography as a career.  Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept graduate students into research positions at this time. However, I would highly recommend that you investigate other faculty at INSTAAR and in the Geography department at CU Boulder, and contact at INSTAAR for information regarding programs with an interest in mountain geography.

Active Research

Research Projects



Alton C. Byers 2019: Chasing GLOFs in the Nepal Himalaya. ECS Nepal,

Alton C. Byers, Rounce, D. R., Shugar, D. H., Lala, J. M., Byers, E. A., Regmi, D. 2018: A rockfall-induced glacial lake outburst flood, Upper Barun Valley, Nepal. Landslides, 16(3): 533-549. DOI: 10.1007/s10346-018-1079-9

Alton C. Byers 2018: Past and present in the Khumbu. ECS Nepal, 194: 50-54.

Alton C. Byers, Byers, E. A., McKinney, D. C., Rounce, D. R. 2017: A field-based study of impacts of the 2015 earthquake on potentially dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal. Himalaya: The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 37(2): article 7.

Alton C. Byers 2017: Alpine habitat conservation and restoration in tropical and sub-tropical high mountains. In Allison, S. K. and Murphy, S. D. (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Ecological and Environmental Restoration. London: Routledge, 197-212.

Rounce, D. R., Alton C. Byers, Byers, E. A., McKinney, D. C. 2017: Brief communication: Observations of a glacier outburst flood from Lhotse Glacier, Everest area, Nepal. The Cryosphere, 11: 443-449. DOI: 10.5194/tc-11-443-2017

Rounce, D. R., McKinney, D. C., Lala, J. M., Alton C. Byers, Watson, C. S. 2016: A new remote hazard and risk assessment framework for glacial lakes in the Nepal Himalaya. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 20: 3455-3475. DOI: 10.5194/hess-20-3455-2016

Watanabe, T., Alton C. Byers, Somos-Valenzuela, M. A., McKinney, D. C. 2016: The need for community involvement in glacial lake field research: The case of Imja Glacial Lake, Khumbu, Nepal Himalaya. In Singh, R. B., Schickhoff, U., and Mal, S. (eds.), Climate Change, Glacier Response, and Vegetation Dynamics in the Himalaya: Contributions Toward Future Earth Initiatives. Springer, 235-250. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-28977-9_13

Somos-Valenzuela, M. A., McKinney, D. C., Alton C. Byers, Rounce, D. R., Portocarrero, C., Lamsal, D. 2015: Assessing downstream flood impacts due to a potential GLOF from Imja Tsho in Nepal. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 19(3): 1401-1412. DOI: 10.5194/hess-19-1401-2015

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