Everest confirmed as higher, after years of debate

An undated photo by Nepal's Survey Department showing a team member using a Global Navigation Satellite System receiver during a survey to measure Mount Everest's height. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
An undated photo by Nepal's Survey Department showing a team member using a Global Navigation Satellite System receiver during a survey to measure Mount Everest's height. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KATHMANDU • The highest point on Earth just got a bit higher as China and Nepal finally agreed on a precise elevation for Mount Everest after years of debate.

The agreed height of 8,848.86m - unveiled at a news conference on Tuesday in Kathmandu - was 86cm higher than the measurement previously recognised by Nepal, and more than 4m above China's official figure.

This discrepancy was due to China measuring the rock base on the summit and not - as with the new reading - the covering of snow and ice on the peak.

Everest straddles the border of Nepal and China.

Employing trigonometry hundreds of kilometres away on the Indian plains, British colonial geographers first determined Everest's height in 1856 at 8,840m above sea level.

After New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay famously first reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953, an Indian survey readjusted the altitude to 8,848m.

That measurement was widely accepted, with the number appealing not only to ambitious mountaineers, but also inspiring names for adventure clothing lines, restaurants and even a vodka brand.

In 1999, the US National Geographic Society concluded the world's highest point was 8,850m, but Nepal never officially recognised this, although it is widely quoted.

China, meanwhile, conducted several surveys of its own, and in 2005 came up with a measurement of 8,844.43m.

That provoked a row with Nepal, which was resolved only in 2010 when Kathmandu and Beijing agreed that their measurements referred to different things - one to the height of Everest's rock and the other to the height of its snowcap.

Nepal decided to conduct a survey - initially alone and later joined by China - after suggestions that tectonic plate movements including a major earthquake in 2015 may have affected the height.

About 300 Nepali experts and surveyors were involved in the exercise - some on foot and others in helicopters - to reach data collection stations.

Professor Dang Yamin of the National Bureau of Surveying and Mapping told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that the final result was an average value between the measurements by Nepal and China, in accordance with scientific rules.

Nepal's Land Minister Padma Kumari Aryal said: "Various countries have completed the measurement of the height... several times.

"The results have been different on different occasions, so today we end these speculations."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2020, with the headline 'Everest confirmed as higher, after years of debate'. Subscribe