On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministers of Nepal and China jointly certified the elevation of Mount Everest at 8,848.86 metres above sea level — 86 cm higher than what was recognised since 1954. The common declaration meant that the two countries have shed their long-standing difference in opinion about the mountain’s height — 29,017 feet (8,844 m) claimed by China and 29,028 ft (8,848 m) by Nepal. In feet, the new elevation is about 29,031 ft, or about 3 ft higher than Nepal’s previous claim.
No other mountain has perhaps been the subject of as much debate. Over the years, there have been debates on issues like whether it should be “rock height”, or whether the snow cladding it, too, should be accounted for.
How and when was the earlier measurement of 8,848 m done?
This was determined by the Survey of India in 1954, using instruments like theodolites and chains, with GPS still decades away. The elevation of 8,848 m came to be accepted in all references worldwide — except by China. Mount Everest rises from the border between Nepal and China.
There was also a third estimate, even higher. In 1999, a US team put the elevation at 29,035 feet (nearly 8,850 m). This survey was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, US. The Society uses this measurement, while the rest of the world, except China, had accepted 8,848 m so far.
When was the new measurement done?
Until the devastating earthquake of April 2015, Nepal’s Survey Department had perhaps never considered the idea of measuring Mt Everest. But the earthquake triggered a debate among scientists on whether it had affected the height of the mountain.
The government subsequently declared that it would measure the mountain on its own, instead of continuing to follow the Survey of India findings of 1954.
New Zealand, which shares a bond with Nepal over the mountain, provided technical assistance. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber on the peak along with Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay in May 1953, worked as the mountain’s undeclared brand ambassador to the world. In May 2019, the New Zealand government provided Nepal’s Survey Department (Napi Bibhag) with a Global Navigation Satellite, and trained technicians. Christopher Pearson, a scientist from University of Otago, travelled to Nepal on a special assignment.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
How did China come to be part of it?
China’s measurements were done separately. Nepal, in fact, had completed its mission early last year. The team of 120 (field workers and data analysts) was processing the data and computing results, which took four months, when the pandemic disrupted its work.
The two sides subsequently signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly make public their results. The Chinese side conducted its measurements early this year.
What was the methodology used?
In Tuesday’s webinar, which lasted nearly half an hour, Foreign Ministers Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and Yang Yi, respectively from Kathmandu and Beijing, simply announced the new height, and appreciated the mutual cooperation. They did not go into technical details.
Damodar Dhakal, Joint Secretary and spokesperson for Nepal’s Department of Survey, said: “We have used the previous methods applied in ascertaining the height as well as the latest data as well Global Navigational Satellite System (GNSS). The fact that both Chinese and Nepali data tallied shows the accuracy.”
Could there be any disagreement on the process or the outcome?
“There should not be any,” Dhakal said. The Department of Survey said that with both sides finding the same result, the accuracy of the methods appear all the more credible.
There is an important takeaway for Nepal. It was a moment of national pride in achieving this technological feat. As a senior bureaucrat said: “We got involved for the first time in ascertaining the height of the mountain that is linked to our identity. Second, the world community and those in adventure tourism will be able to gain a higher record by climbing Mt Everest that is taller than it was assumed yesterday.”