Everest’s Official Height May Change Yet Again With Results of Chinese Survey Team

Lynn Barlow | ClimbingClimbing
Mt Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. PC Ananya Bilimale

A Chinese survey team summited Mt Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, on Wednesday, May 27. They are likely to be the only people to reach the summit in 2020 after both Nepal and China closed Everest to climbers. China and Nepal shut down the 2020 Everest climbing season due to concerns about COVID-19 spreading among climbers, who live in close quarters at base camp.

The Chinese team is conducting surveys, collecting ecological data, and attempting to re-measure the height of the world’s tallest peak. The accepted height of Mt Everest has changed over the years as technology and measuring techniques have improved. The measured height of Mt Everest may change again with the results of the Chinese team’s survey.

The Chinese survey team did not face difficulties with crowds on Everest due to COVID-19 closures. A line of climbers on Everest during the 2019 season. PC Nirmal Purja, Project Possible

The height of Mt Everest was first calculated in 1852 by mathematician and surveyor Radhanath Sikdar as being 29,002 feet. Then, in 1856, Andrew Waugh calculated the height of Everest as exactly 29,000 feet, though he reported it as 29,002 feet to avoid the assumption that a reported height of 29,000 was simply a rounded estimate. Because of this, Waugh is sometimes referred to as “the first person to put two feet on top of Everest.”¹

In 1999, an American expedition took measurements using a GPS and recorded Everest’s height as 29,035 feet. This measurement has not been officially recognized by Nepal, but it is used by the National Geographic Society among others. However, GPS measurements of Everest’s height have been called into question due to geoid uncertainty, meaning that there are irregularities in the shape and density of the earth that can cause inaccuracies in GPS measurements. 

Chinese survey team
The Chinese survey team at base camp, May 16, 2020. PC Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP

The currently accepted height of Everest is 29,029 feet. This height was first calculated by an Indian survey in 1955, then ratified by a Chinese measurement in 1975. Everest’s height of 29,029 includes the snow cap covering the rocky mountain top. In 2005, another Chinese survey measured the rock cap at a mere 29,017 feet. This led to another dispute about the proper height of Everest; however, most agree that the snow cap should be included in the height of Everest.

¹Beech, Martin (2014). The Pendulum Paradigm: Variations on a Theme and the Measure of Heaven and Earth. Universal-Publishers. p. 267.

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