In China they call it Qomolangma, while the Nepalis refer to it as Sagarmatha. But it was only on Tuesday this week that both Himalayan nations finally agreed on its height: 8,848.86 metres.
Mount Everest – as it is known in English having been named after the former head of the British-India Survey Office, Sir George Everest — has been claimed by both nations since the two countries agreed in 1961 on a border demarcated by the mountain’s summit.
That means that the northern side of the mountain falls in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the southern side rises up from Nepal – formerly a satellite state of India but now an increasingly close ally of the Chinese.
The actual height of the mountain had been a sore point for years, with China pushing for the Nepalis to recognise a height 3.7 metres lower than the official Nepali verdict of 8,848 metres.
Making matters worse for Nepal was the fact that they didn’t have their own data for the calculation – their measurement was one calculated by the Survey of India in 1954.
The new height was measured with GPS and China’s Beidou satellite placement systems, crediting the mountain as 86cm higher than even the Nepalis thought.
That means the older Indian measurement was found to be slightly more accurate than the official Chinese assessment from 2005 – something the Indian media is now celebrating.
The initiative to arrive at a new consensus on the mountain’s height was announced during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal last year, with the peak – sometimes a source of bilateral disputes in the past – instead being recast as an “eternal symbol of friendship” between the two nations.
Nepal is particularly proud of the new measurement because it is the first time that Nepali scientists have surveyed the mountain (when the Indians offered to survey the mountain again in 2017, Nepal refused, saying its surveyors would do it themselves).
Quite how the two sides reached consensus is unclear. The Nepali survey team climbed to the top in May 2019 from the southern side and the Chinese team went up this year from the northern slopes. “Once the surveyor’s beacon had been placed on the summit, surveyors at stations around the summit measured the distance from the six points to the beacon, which meant at least six triangles could be calculated to determine the mountain’s height,” Jiang Tao, associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping, told the China Daily.
The previous discrepancy between the 1954 and 2005 readings had been explained by the fact that the Chinese measured to the top of the rock, while the Indian assessment included the mountain’s snow cap. According to Xinhua, the new measurement includes the snow, although the newspaper doesn’t say why the Chinese came round to the different approach.
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