I just learned an interesting factoid that I want to share with you. The image below is a picture of the tallest mountain in the world. Do you know which is it?
If you answered Mount Everest you are correct. This mountain is over 29,000 feet high and has a lot of name recognition in the world. But let me ask the above question in a different way. When measured from the center of the Earth, which is the tallest mountain in the world? Or alternatively, the summit of which mountain is closer to outer space? Surprisingly the answer is not “Everest” but rather the mountain in the picture below. Do you know its name?
This is a volcano in Ecuador called Chimborazo and it is 20,564 feet tall when measured from sea level. However, when measured from the center of the Earth, Chimborazo is 1.35 miles taller than Everest and therefore also closer to outer space! In fact, when measured in this manner, Everest is the fifth highest mountain in the world with the second, third, and fourth positions occupied by the mountains Huascaran in Peru, Cotopaxi also in Ecuador, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, respectively.
The reason for this surprising fact is that the Earth is not a perfect sphere. Due to the Earth’s rotation, the land and the sea around the equator bulge outward. Someone standing at sea level on the Earth’s poles is about 13 miles closer to the center of the Earth than someone standing at sea level on the equator. Because Chimborazo is located 1 degree south of the equator it sits on top of this bulge, whereas Everest which is 28 degrees north of the equator is not “pushed up” as much.
When I learned about this my first thought was: what about the Death Zone?
The Death Zone is found in high mountains above an elevation of 26,000 feet. At this altitude the abundance of oxygen is only 1/3 of that found at sea level and the human body is incapable of adapting effectively. The death zone is one of the reasons Everest is so hard to climb and also why the route to the top in this area of the mountain is littered with the bodies of dead climbers. I reasoned that if Chimborazo is closer to outer space than Everest, then it should also have a death zone. As it turns out this is not the case because the Earth’s atmosphere also bulges out around the equator. As a result of this, the summit of Chimborazo is safely below the death zone and the human body can function in the thin atmosphere of the summit if allowed the time for adaptation to high altitudes.
So there you have it. Now next time someone says that Everest is the tallest mountain, you can impress everyone by saying, “Wait a minute…” and proceed to set the record straight. Remember to reference this blog as your source. Thanks!
Everest photo credit: Rupert Taylor-Price / Foter.com / CC BYChimborazo photo credit: apgwhite / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.
This cartoon reminded me of a conversation I had with a Muslim when I was in grad school. I started asking him questions about the way women were treated in his and many other similar countries. I was very surprised when he let me know that what I considered oppression, paternalism, and sexism, he called "respect." He went on to tell me how dismayed he was over the way women were not respected in the United States. He said that in his country no man would allow his wife, sister, or daughter to go out to the streets alone by herself, especially wearing revealing clothing.
Of course I was not swayed by his arguments, but it always amazes me how some of the things that are abhorred by one culture are considered rock solid values in another. Idealistically I always like to think that "What divides us pales in comparison to what unites us." But with such strong cultural differences that we feel so passionately about separating us, is there any chance we will ever work together to deal with the challenges facing our world?
Not all pictures are worth 1000 words. Some like this one are worth a whole library's worth of writing!