Written by Yubaraj Ghimire, edited by Explained Desk | Kathmandu | Updated: December 10, 2020 12:12:10 pm
In 1954, the Survey of India determined that the elevation of Everest is 8,848 m (29,028 ft). This became recognized worldwide. Except for China. (Archive)
On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministers of Nepal and China jointly certified the elevation of Mount Everest to 8,848.86 meters above sea level, 86 cm higher than it has been recognized since 1954. The joint declaration meant that the two countries have eliminated its long-standing difference in opinion on the mountain’s height: 29,017 feet (8,844 m) claimed by China and 29,028 feet (8,848 m) by Nepal. In feet, the new elevation is approximately 29,031 feet, or approximately 3 feet higher than the previous claim for Nepal.
Perhaps no other mountain has been the subject of so much debate. Over the years, there have been debates on questions such as whether it should be the “height of the rock” or whether the snow covering it should also be taken into account.
How and when was the previous measurement of 8,848 m made?
This was determined by the Survey of India in 1954, using instruments like theodolites and chains, with GPS still decades away. The 8,848 m elevation came to be accepted in all references worldwide except China. Mount Everest rises from the border between Nepal and China.
There was also a third estimate, even higher. In 1999, a team from the USA set the elevation at 29,035 feet (almost 8,850 m). This survey was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, USA The Society uses this measure, while the rest of the world, except China, has so far accepted 8,848 m.
When was the new measurement performed?
Until the devastating earthquake in April 2015, the Nepal Department of Studies had perhaps never considered the idea of measuring Mount Everest. But the earthquake sparked a debate among scientists about whether it had affected the height of the mountain.
The government later declared that it would measure the mountain on its own, rather than following the findings of the 1954 Survey of India.
New Zealand, which shares a link with Nepal on the mountain, provided technical assistance. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to the top along with Tenzing Norgay from Nepal in May 1953, served as an undeclared ambassador for the mountain brand to the world. In May 2019, the New Zealand government provided the Nepal Department of Studies (Napi Bibhag) with a global navigation satellite and trained technicians. Christopher Pearson, a scientist from the University of Otago, traveled to Nepal with a special mission.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
In this May 27, 2020 photo, members of a Chinese surveying team head to the top of Mount Everest, also known locally as Mt. Qomolangma. (AP / PTI photo)
How did China become part of it?
The measurements for China were made separately. Nepal, in fact, completed its mission early last year. The team of 120 (field workers and data analysts) was processing the data and computing the results, which took four months, when the pandemic disrupted their work.
Subsequently, the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly make their results public. The Chinese side made its measurements earlier this year.
What was the methodology used?
At Tuesday’s webinar, which lasted almost half an hour, Foreign Ministers Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and Yang Yi, respectively from Kathmandu and Beijing, simply announced the new height and thanked each other for their cooperation. They did not go into technical details.
Damodar Dhakal, Deputy Secretary and Spokesperson for the Nepal Department of Studies, said: “We have used the above applied methods to determine height, as well as the most recent data, as well as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). The fact that both the Chinese and Nepalese data have been recorded shows the accuracy. “
A bird flies with Mount Everest seen in the background from Namche Bajar, Solukhumbu District, Nepal. (AP / PTI photo)
Could there be any disagreement about the process or the outcome?
“There shouldn’t be any,” Dhakal said. The Survey Department said that if both parties find the same result, the accuracy of the methods seems even more credible.
There is an important conclusion for Nepal. It was a moment of national pride for achieving this technological feat. As one senior bureaucrat put it: “We first became involved in determining the height of the mountain that is linked to our identity. Second, the world community and those involved in adventure tourism will be able to achieve a higher record by climbing Everest, which is higher than it was supposed to yesterday. “
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