There is no doubt that Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain. But how tall is it, exactly? And did the powerful earthquake the struck in the high Himalayan Mountains two years ago reduce its size?
To answer these questions, Nepal has started an ambitious two-year project to re-measure the famous mountain.
Officials working on the project hope to put an end to conflicting information about the mountain’s size.
The project is also about national pride. Until now, the measurements of Mount Everest have mostly come from Indian and Chinese studies. Now Nepal, a small mountainous country, wants to decide the height of Everest on its own.
Everest is on the border between Nepal and China.
Ganesh Prasad Bhatta is director general of Nepal’s Survey Department. He calls Mount Everest “Nepal's baby.”
"I used to say since the birth (discovery) of Mount Everest, Nepal has not measured it,” Bhatta said.
But Nepal has the ability to do so, he said. And the new project will help show that Nepal is able to, in his words, “carry out any kind of challenging survey work on its own.”
Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 mountains that are taller than 8,000 meters. Everest is the mountain that is most central to the country’s economy. Every year, climbers from around the world come to try to reach its peak. This brings the country millions of dollars.
History of measurement
The first-ever measurement of Everest was made in 1854. But its most widely accepted height – 8,848 meters – was measured some 100 years later by an Indian survey team.
In 1999, an American team used satellite technology to measure the mountain. The team determined that Everest was 8,850 meters -- a little taller than earlier studies had found.
But six years later a Chinese mission to Everest lowered its height. It found that the rock height of the mountain was 8,844.43 meters.
Those findings started a dispute between Nepal and China. Nepal said that the measure of a mountain is its snow height. So, officially, Everest’s height has remained 8,848 meters.
A change in climate
In 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. It caused major landslides on Everest. People have since questioned whether the quake changed the mountain’s height.
Experts also worry that climate change may affect the mountain. Climbers and locals say parts of Everest's main trail are becoming rockier as they lose snow cover.
India offered to remeasure the mountain earlier this year. However, some Nepalese felt that the next measurement of Everest should be done by a team from their own country.
An opinion article in Nepal’s Kathmandu Post said, "It is our property and our heritage. We have to determine the height of our property ourselves with modern technology in a way that satisfies the researchers of the world. This is our responsibility."
Yurbaraj Ghimire is a Nepalese commentator. He said people in Nepal feel it is important to not just find the true measurement of Everest, but also to have a measurement of their own. “They are bit emotional about it,” he said.
A final decision
Nepal hopes to deliver the final measurement of the mountain in two years.
Bhatta said his office is finalizing its methods. A team of Sherpas will go to the top of Everest with measuring equipment in April or October of next year.
Officials say they hope to get international support of the data. They also say they may also permit international scientists to join the project, Bhatta said.
"We want to assure the international community that whatever has been done has been done accurately with standard methodology and there should not be any question about the results, whatever we produce," he said.
As scientists aim to end the debate on the height of Everest, people who live in the area have different concerns. Ang Tshering Sherpa is one of them. He is an experienced mountaineer, and grew up in a village next to Everest.
Sherpa said some locals believe that Mount Everest is huge, unchanging, and strong. But he said he has observed how climate change is affecting the mountain.
"…The truth is this is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world because of the impact of climate change. White snow peaks and glaciers are melting rapidly,” Sherpa said, adding that the melting is happening faster than ever.
I’m Ashley Thompson. And I'm Phil Dierking.
This story was written by Anjana Pasricha for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
accurate - adj. free from mistakes or errors
challenge - n. to test the ability, skill, or strength of someone or something)
commentator - n. a person who discusses important people and events on television, in newspapers, etc.
doubt - n. to call into question the truth of
endorse - v. to publicly or officially say that you support or approve of someone or something)
heritage - n. the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation
magnitude - n. a number that shows the power of an earthquake
determine(d) - v. to officially decide something, especially because of evidence or facts
mission - n. a specific task with which a person or a group is charged
peak - n. the top of a hill or mountain ending in a point
rapid - adj. marked by a fast rate of motion, activity, succession, or occurrence
satellite - n. a machine that is sent into space and that moves around the earth, moon, sun, or a planet
sherpa - n. a member of a people who live in the Himalayas and who are often hired to help guide mountain climbers and carry their equipment
survey - n. an act of measuring and examining an area of land
vulnerable - adj. easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally