Measuring The Height Of Mount Everest : Short Wave : NPR

Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, seen from Syangboche in Nepal.

Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images


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Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images

Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, seen from Syangboche in Nepal.

Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images

For three years, Roxanne Vogel trained, single-mindedly, with one number in mind: 29,029 feet.

She slept in a special tent, outside her home in California, that simulated high altitude. She summited dozens of peaks, on nearly every continent. And finally, last year, Vogel climbed up to 29,029 feet in the Himalayan mountains – the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.

“That’s the closest to heaven, or the closest to outer space, that I will ever get on this Earth,” Vogel, 35, told NPR. “It’s kind of life-changing, when you’re up there.”

Roxanne Vogel, a US mountaineer, atop Everest on May 22, 2019.

Courtesy of Roxanne Vogel


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Courtesy of Roxanne Vogel

Roxanne Vogel, a US mountaineer, atop Everest on May 22, 2019.

Courtesy of Roxanne Vogel

(And Roxanne didn’t just climb Everest; she set a speed record doing it. In May 2019, she traveled round-trip from her California home, to Everest’s peak and back, in just 14 days.)

But that number — 29,029 feet, from sea level to summit – to which Vogel dedicated so many years of training, may not be the actual height of Everest – or at least not for long. Because the mountain is changing.

Scientists say Everest is getting taller, over time, because of plate tectonics. As the Indian plate slips under the Eurasian plate, it uplifts the Himalayas. But earthquakes can reduce their height in an instant. After a 7.8-magnitude quake in 2015 killed thousands, including climbers on Everest, scientists suspect the mountain got shorter.

So China and Nepal, on whose borders Everest stands, decided it’s time to re-measure Everest.

This spring, with the climbing season canceled for COVID-19, China sent a survey team up to Everest’s summit, carrying GPS receivers. Last year, Nepal did the same. The two countries have been analyzing their findings for months, and are expected to release them any day now – possibly as early as this weekend. Calculating that number has evolved as our technology has, but the science remains complicated.

SIR GEORGE EVEREST, AND AN INDIAN MATHEMATICIAN

Back in the 19th century, when Sir George Everest – a Briton – was the Surveyor General of India, under colonial rule, they used trigonometry to measure mountains, with machines called theodolites. They’re optical instruments – sort of a cross between a telescope and a compass – that are used to measure angles between visible points on the horizon, and vertical planes. Municipal surveyors still use tripod versions of them.

Theodolites used in earlier expeditions to measure Everest.

Courtesy of B. Nagarajan and the Geodetic & Research Branch Museum, Survey of India


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Courtesy of B. Nagarajan and the Geodetic & Research Branch Museum, Survey of India

Theodolites used in

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Even Mount Everest, the World’s Tallest Peak, Can’t Escape Microplastics | Smart News

Two years ago, scientists reported that plastic pollution has found its way into the Mariana Trench, the darkest, deepest part of the ocean. Now, plastic has officially infiltrated the highest point above sea level: Mount Everest.

A study published November 20 in the journal One Earth reveals microplastics have been found up and down Mount Everest in staggering concentrations, reports Carolyn Wilke for Science News.

Last year, a team of 34 scientists embarked on an icy expedition up Mount Everest to better understand how climate change is affecting the highest point above sea level on Earth. (Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is the furtherest point away from Earth’s core, and Mauna Kea is the tallest from base to peak.) As part of their research, they scooped up snow samples from various spots on the mountain and stored them in stainless steel jars to bring back to the lab for testing, reports Freddie Wilkinson for National Geographic. Upon analysis, the team found that all 11 of the samples they collected had tiny shreds of microplastics imbued in the snow, reports Science News.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analyzed,” lead author Imogen Napper, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth in England, says in a press release. “Mount Everest is somewhere I have always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

On average, the team detected around 30 bits of microplastics per quart of water. But they detected the highest concentration of microplastics—119 particles per quart of water—around Everest Base Camp, where climbers spend time resting, regrouping and acclimatizing to the high elevation, reports Damian Carrington for the Guardian.

Most of the fibers were polyester, but they also found significant traces of acrylic, polypropylene and nylon, reports National Geographic. Given the type of plastic and the fact that the highest concentrations were found around base camp, the fibers were most likely shed from the mountaineers’ clothing and equipment, such as insulated jackets, tents and ropes.

Microplastic fibers are so small that they are often invisible to the naked eye, but those tiny threads accumulate in massive numbers. A study published in February suggests that a two-pound synthetic jacket sheds 400 microplastic fibers for every 20 minutes of use. Over the course of a year, that jacket can shed a billion fibers, reports National Geographic.

Even the highest points of Everest weren’t spared from plastic pollution. Scientists found trace amounts of plastic at an elevation of 27,690 feet, just 1,345 feet shy of the mountain’s peak, reports Science News.

“These are the highest microplastics discovered so far,” Napper says. “While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth. With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care

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Into Thicker Air and Onto Thinner Ice: How Climate Change Is Affecting Mount Everest | Science

Despite being the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest still can’t escape the effects of climate change. The only place that punctures the stratosphere—Everest’s peak reaches 29,035 feet above sea level—has an atmosphere so thin that it leaves mountaineers gasping for breath and glaciers so big that they stretch for miles on end. But both of those elements are changing fast. According to two new studies published today in iScience and One Earth, the air pressure near Everest’s summit is rising, making more oxygen available to breathe, and glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, leading to more meltwater. The changes will impact climbers scaling the peak and local people who live in the shadow of it.

“Some of the lower Himalayan regions are fairly well studied, but a place like Everest is less studied because it’s just so hard to do work up there.” says Aurora Elmore, a climate scientist at the National Geographic Society. “There’s a big gap in the research, especially above 5,000 meters [16, 404 feet]—and Everest is 8,850 meters [29,035 feet]. That huge three kilometers of elevation has been under studied.”

To learn more about the highest reaches of the world, last year Elmore helped organize an expedition that sent a team of 34 scientists to Mount Everest to collect glaciological and meteorological data by installing the highest weather stations in the world. The expedition provided the data for both of the new studies, each of which Elmore co-authored.






At 8,430 meters above sea level, the high-altitude expedition team celebrates after setting up the world’s highest operating automated weather station during the National Geographic and Rolex Perpetual Planet Everest Expedition. For more info on the expedition, go to www.NatGeo.com/Everest.

(Photo by Mark Fisher, National Geographic)

In a study published in iScience, Elmore and a team of scientists set out to document how the atmospheric pressure on Everest has fluctuated since the 1970s. Each year, around 800 people attempt to summit Mount Everest, but after ascending 21,325 feet, the air gets so thin that most climbers turn to bottled oxygen to help them breathe. Only a handful of mountaineers attempt to climb it without supplemental oxygen. But that may get easier, as climate change is causing the air to slowly thicken, which means more oxygen is available at higher altitudes.

When temperature rises, molecules move faster. And when these molecules start to collide with each other, pressure increases. More pressure means more molecules, making more oxygen available to breathe, says lead author Tom Matthews, a climate scientist at Loughborough University in the U.K.

To analyze the changes in the atmosphere, Matthews and his team collected data using those weather stations they installed on the Everest expedition in 2019. They coupled their newly collected data with analyses produced by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting to reconstruct what the climate was like on Everest from 1979 to 2020.

Matthews and his team then used the climate data to model how the atmosphere around Everest

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