Link #65: Mt. Everest Is and Isn’t the Tallest Mountain on Earth!

 

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Link #65: Mt. Everest Is and Isn’t the Tallest Mountain on Earth!

Everest
Mount Everest as seen from an aircraft from airline company Drukair in Bhutan. Image credit: shrimpo1967 cc2.0

Up until you read our last post, you may not have known that the tallest man ever on earth was Robert Wadlow who was almost 9 feet tall. On the other hand, if we were to ask you which is the tallest mountain on earth, you would promptly take the name of Mount Everest.

However, did you know that Mt. Everest isn’t the tallest mountain on earth from one perspective but is the tallest mountain on the planet from another? Now, all your books would tell you otherwise, but they would fail to mention the criteria used to decide the tallest mountain on earth. Are you still confused? Let us free you of that confusion!

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Mt. Everest Is and Isn’t the Tallest on Earth

Earth_elevation_histogram
Elevation histogram of the surface of the Earth by Citynoise PD image.

You’re most probably wondering how Mt. Everest can be called the tallest and not be called the tallest at the same time. The reason for this confusion is how you measure the height of the mountain. The highest summit of Mt. Everest is as high as 8,850 metres above sea level.

The operational phrase here is ‘above sea level’. When we say that Mt. Everest is the tallest on earth, we mean to say that it is the tallest peak above sea level. So, our starting point is the sea level. If you were to change this perspective to include the complete height of a mountain, the title of the tallest mountain on earth would go to Mauna Kea.


Mauna Kea Is the Tallest on Earth Too

Mauna_Kea_from_Mauna_Loa_Observatory,_Hawaii
View of Mauna Kea from Mauna Loa observatory. Image credit: Nula666 cc3.0

If you were to not take the sea level into account then Mt. Everest wouldn’t be the tallest mountain on earth. The title would go to Mauna Kea. While the highest peak of Mt. Everest is 8,850 metres above sea level, Maun Kea’s highest peak is only 4,205 metres.

However, the total height of Mt. Everest, i.e., from its base to its height is only 8,850 metres while Mauna Kea’s height on the basis of the same criteria is more than 10,000 metres. This is because Mauna Kea is an island.

This means that the base of the mountain is actually the base of the island. So, if you don’t bring the sea level into the picture then Mt. Everest isn’t the tallest on earth because Mauna Kea holds that distinction.


Mt. Chimborazo Also Shares the Same Title

Ecuador_Chimborazo
Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador. Image credit: Kilobug cc3.0

Now you know that both Mt. Everest and Mauna Kea can claim to be the tallest mountain on earth. However, what if we tweak the perspective even more? What if we change the criteria that we’re using to decide which is the tallest mountain on earth?

What if we start measuring from the centre of the earth itself? If we were to make this change then neither Mt. Everest nor Mauna Kea would qualify as the tallest mountain on earth. In such a scenario, our winner would be Mt. Chimborazo.

Mt. Chimborazo is located in Ecuador and has a height of only 6,310 metres above sea level. However, Mt. Chimborazo is located almost exactly on top of the Equator which makes it the one mountain that is farthest from the centre of the earth.

The reason for this is that the earth isn’t a perfect sphere. It is wider at the equator than anywhere else. As a result of this, Mt. Chimborazo is 2 kilometres farther from the earth’s centre than Mt. Everest.




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Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_Kea
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimborazo
http://geology.com/records/highest-mountain-in-the-world.shtml

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