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Survey: Highest mountain comes up short
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-10 05:57

It may still be the highest mountain in the world, but Mount Qomolangma is not quite as high as everyone thought.

A new study using satellite technology has set the mountain's height at 8844.43 metres, according to the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, 3.7 metres lower than previously reckoned.

The new figure, accurate to 0.21 metres, according to Chen Bangzhu, director of the bureau, refers to the highest point of rock at the mountain's summit.

As part of the survey, the world's most advanced ice and snow radar altimeter was trained on the summit, revealing the thickness of ice and snow covering the rock to be 3.5 metres a hint perhaps as to how the mountain's previous recorded height came to be wide of the mark.

That earlier figure of 8848.13 metres, first published 30 years ago and a staple of geography text books every since, will now be replaced, Chen said.

According to Chen, the 3.7-metre discrepancy "does not necessarily mean the mountain is shorter than 30 years ago," or even that the previous measurement was wrong.

Different measuring techniques, human error and frequent changes in the geography of the mountain could all account for the mountain appearing to have shrunk.

"When we conducted the survey in 1975, the equipment was of much poorer accuracy. We measured the depth of the ice and snow by a simple poke of an iron stick, therefore we did not reach the real surface of the rock summit," he said.

More sophisticated methods were applied this year, including an electro-optical distance meter, global positioning systems (GPS) and a radar altimeter, "all of the world's top measuring means."

Chen Junyong, a leading expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said there will be further analysis of the new data over the next few months.

"Using the latest data we will be able to get a better overview of the horizontal and perpetual crust movement on and around Mount Qomolangma," he said.

Results of the study are expected to be announced next year. More than 50 people were involved in the comprehensive field investigation.

(China Daily 10/10/2005 page1)

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