Based on seeing it repeated over and over again in school books, lists of geographical curiosities and encyclopedias, we take it for granted, as part of that general culture heritage that anyone with a couple of readings is supposed to: Everest is the highest mountain on the planet. It turns out that the thing, however, is not as simple as they explained to us in Knowledge of the Environment. In the end, as in almost everything, it depends on the perspective with which you look at it.
The top of the Himalayas is indeed the highest above sea level, which is the scale that experts usually use to measure heights; but… What happens if we do without it and look, simply and plainly, at the global size of the mountains? Is Everest still the biggest giant in the world in that case? No. And clearly, too. If the criteria is changed, there are more advantaged opponents, such as Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano located in Hawaii.
Mauna Kea, “White Mountain”, has a height of 4,205 meters. That, of course, if sea level is taken as a reference. With that mark, it is very far from the 8,848 meters that Everest reaches. The key is under the ocean, where the largest extension of Mauna Kea is hidden, around 6,000 m. If the measurement were made from its base and up to the peak, the result —according to the data handled by the United States Geological Survey (USGS)— is that the height would be around 10,211 ma measure “considerably higher than the highest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest”.
The key, underwater
What is the reason for the colossal size of Mauna Kea? And that it hides such an extension under the waters of the Pacific? As detailed by geologist David Tobar in an article in El Tiempo, the key is its volcanic origin. Upon coming into contact with the water, the magma cools, solidifies and generates the rock that serves as the base of the giant. In the case of Mauna Kea, a “shield volcano”, the base is extensive and its slopes have a very low inclination, which makes it easy for it to reach great heights.
His neighbor is very close Long Mountain, the largest active volcano on the planet and that only since 1843 has erupted more than thirty times. Its summit rises 4,169 meters above sea level, somewhat less than Mauna Kea, but with a similar submerged secret. The USGS experts themselves highlight the enormous surface that is hidden under the waters of the Pacific Ocean, especially if one takes into account the depression of the seabed itself due to the mass of the volcano. Not long ago, Mauna Loa made headlines when it erupted for the first time in nearly four decades.
Mauna Kea’s features have not gone unnoticed by professional astronomers. Today it has more than a dozen telescopes. An international project with a budget of 1,400 million dollars has even been put on the table to add to that list a new observatory with a 30-meter device, a proposal that met with the rejection of those who are committed to preserving the space. Among them is actor Jason Momoa.
Everest would also fall short again if we change the criteria again and, instead of taking into account the height with respect to sea level or from the very base of the mountain, another scale is taken as a reference: the distance with respect to the Center of the Earth.
In that case, Live Science recalls, Chimborazo, in the Andes, would stand out on its own merits. Its height from sea level is 6,263 m, well below Everest’s 8,848; but things change when the distance from the center of the planet is valued. We are talking then of 6,384.4 kilometers, more than the 6,382.6 of the great mountain of the Himalayas. The measure was corroborated in 2016 by an expedition of the Military Geographical Institute of Ecuador and the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD) thanks to measurements made with the help of a GPS system.
The secret of Chimborazo is not under the stormy waters of the ocean, as is the case with Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, but rather in its place on the planet. The peculiar shape of the Earth, a flattened spheroid which protrudes along the equator, and the difference between the polar and equatorial radius places the Andean summit in an advantageous place to win the rest of the opponents in the race to become the great “giant” of the terrestrial surface.
If we skip the League and go to the Solar System, where we can find titans like Mount Olympus, on Mars, with a height of around 27,000 meters, the scales blur.
Images: Peter Luo (Unsplash) and Kahunapule Michael Johnson (Flickr)
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