Liberal Arts Blog — What is the Highest Mountain in the World? Everest? Chimborazo? Mauna Kea?
Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, and Numbers Day
Today’s Topic — What is the Highest Mountain in the World? Everest? Chimborazo? Mauna Kea?
I grew up thinking Mt. Everest was the highest mountain in the world. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that there are different opinions on the subject. It depends on how you define “highest” or “tallest.” Mt. Everest wins if you measure the height of the mountain from sea level. But if you measure “tallest” from the base of the mountain, you can argue that the tallest is Mauna Kea on the “Big Island” of Hawaii. Why? Because most of the mountain is under water. The base of the mountain is at the sea floor. The third metric is the summit’s distance from the center of the earth. Here, Mt. Chimborazo is the winner. Why? Because of the “equatorial bulge.” The earth is not a perfect sphere. Sea level is higher near the equator than elsewhere — by a meaningful margin. Today, a few notes on each of the three contenders. Two of the three are volcanoes. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
MT. MAUNA KEA — Hawaii — 13,796 feet (from sea level) or 30,610 feet (from base)
1. Measured from sea level, Mauna Kea is half the height of Everest. Measured from its under water base, it is 1640 feet higher.
2. About a million years old, Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that last erupted about 5000 years ago.
3. “With its high elevation, dry environment, and stable airflow, Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Since the creation of an access road in 1964, thirteen telescopes funded by eleven countries have been constructed at the summit.”
NB: The island of Hawaii is the biggest island in the state of Hawaii by area but not by population. Population: almost 1 million for Oahu (home of Honolulu), less than 200,000 for the Big Island. Area: over 4000 square miles for Hawaii versus less than 500 square miles for Oahu.
MT. CHIMBORAZO — Ecuador — 20,548 feet (from sea level) versus 29,029 for Everest but summit is 7096 feet further from earth’s center (3967.1 miles versus 3965.8 miles)
1. Once thought to be the highest mountain on earth, we now know that in terms of elevation from sea level it is only the 39th tallest within the Andes range.
2. Visible from the coastal city of Guayaquil on clear days. Topped by glaciers which have been shrinking due to global warming.
3. Considered an active volcano by some, inactive by others. Seven eruptions in last 10,000 years. Last one: 500 AD.
NB: Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza Argentina is the tallest mountain in South America as measured the traditional way: 22,837 feet above sea level.
MT. EVEREST — the Nepal/China border runs across the summit
1. Named after Sir George Everest (1790–1866), Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843. He at first objected to the honor “as he had had nothing to do with its discovery and believed his name was not easily written or pronounced in Hindi.” In fact, Everest never saw Mt. Everest which was named by his successor Major General Sir Andrew Scott Waugh (1810–1878).
2. The first climbers to officially reach the summit were Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer, who would later become New Zealand’s Ambassador to Nepal (as well as its High Commissioner to India and Bangladesh).
3. About 300 people have died trying to climb the mountain. For context: about 9100 successful climbs by 5100 people. The death rate based on all attempts has fallen from 14.5% in the last half of the 20th century to 1.5% over the last 20 years. Three reasons: better gear, better weather forecasting, and a higher percentage of climbers using commercial services.
NB: Mt. Everest is still growing — about one quarter inch per year as the Indian tectonic plate continues to push into the Eurasian plate. This started about 50–60 million years ago. Thank you to Earle Pughe for inspiring this post.
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So what are your personal favorite magic numbers? What do they stand for? Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.