Monday, February 26

Deciding which is the highest mountain on the planet is a matter of judgment: Mauna Kea, the volcano that disputes the throne of Everest

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 wealth of general culture that anyone is supposed to have a couple of readings: 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 from 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 we look simply and completely at the global size of the mountains? Is Everest still the largest giant in the world? No. And clearly, too. If the criterion is changed, there are more advantageous opponents, such as White Mountain, a dormant volcano located in Hawaii.

The key, underwater

Mauna Kea, “White Mountain”, has a height of 4,205 meters. That, of course, if the 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 greatest 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, based on data handled by the US Geological Survey (USGS), the height would be around 10,211 meters, a measurement “considerably greater than the highest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest.”

What is the reason for the colossal size of Mauna Kea? And that it hides such an expanse under the waters of the Pacific? As detailed by geologist David Tobar in an article of Time, the key is its volcanic origin. When it comes into contact with 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 incline, making it easy to reach great heights.

Very close has his neighbor Long Mountain, the largest active volcano on the planet and since 1843 alone it has erupted more than thirty times. Its summit appears 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 by the mass of the volcano.

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The characteristics of Mauna Kea have not gone unnoticed by professional astronomers. Today it has more than a dozen telescopes. On the table has even been put an international project with a budget of 1,400 million dollars to add to that list a new observatory with a 30-meter device, a proposal that met with the rejection of those who bet on preserving space. Among them is actor Jason Mamoa.

Everest would fall short also if we change the criteria again and, instead of taking into account the height with respect to sea level or from the base of the mountain, another scale is taken as a reference: the distance from the center of the Earth.

Then, remember Live Science, I would highlight Chimborazo, in the Andes, on its own merits. Its height from sea level is 6,263 meters, well below the 8,848 of Everest; but the thing changes when the distance with respect to the center of our planet is valued. We are then talking about 6,384.4 kilometers, more than the 6,382.6 kilometers of the great Himalayan mountain. The measure was corroborated in 2016 an expedition of the Military Geographical Institute of Ecuador and the French Institute of Research for Development thanks to measurements made with the help of a GPS system.

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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 in its place on the planet. The peculiar shape of the Earth, a flattened spheroid protruding along the equator, and the difference between the polar and equatorial radius places the Andean summit in an advantageous place to win over the rest of the opponents in the race to become the great “giant” of the earth’s surface.

If we jump League and go to the Solar System … That, with Titans like Mount Olympus, on Mars, with a height of approximately 27,000 meters, are already big words.

Via | Live Science

Cover image | Eric Tessmer (Flickr) Y Pastor Michael Johnson (Flickr)