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 BY
Chimborazo photo credit: apgwhite / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
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