How tall is tallest? Chinese researchers measure tallest mountain

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May 27, 2005

Mount Everest from Rombok Gompa, Tibet

Mount Qomolangma, known in the west as Mount Everest, may be taller than ever, and a group of 24 Chinese researchers have scaled the peak and made observations they hope will document its current height.

In 1975 the peak was surveyed at a height of 8 848 metres, in line with previous calculations, but a U.S. survey team in 1999 measured it at 8 850m. The growth to some extent fits current theories regarding the geology of the region, a region with crustal upthrust. The growth may also be due in part to rapid glacier retreat on the peak's slopes, and the mountain springing back as the weight of snow melts and runs off.

At the same time, recent theories suggest the mountain is also shrinking. The peak may be getting smaller from subsidence as it reaches extreme heights, and again the glaciers and snow help to stabilize and expand the mountain itself.

There is some disagreement regarding the methods of measurement used previously, so the researchers spent an hour at the summit taking measurements using radar, satellite, and other methods on 6 points. The average of the measurements will be used to make the official Chinese measurement, which remains at 8 848. Results of the expedition are expected to be available in August.

A previous measurement team from Italy also used the radar methodology in 2004, but their results have not yet been published.

The mountain straddles the border between Tibet and Nepal, and is known by several names. In Chinese, 珠穆朗瑪峰 (pinyin: Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng); Tibetan Qomolangma ("Mother of the Universe"); in Nepal Sagarmatha ("Forehead of the Sky"); and in English named after Sir George Everest.