The Measurement of Mount Everest – Its Discovery and Historical Significance

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By Charlotte Williams

Mount Everest, also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal and Chomolungma in Tibet, is the highest peak on Earth. Since its discovery by the western world in the 19th century, there has been a lot of speculation and curiosity about its exact height. When and how was Everest measured? Let’s dive into the history and find out!

In 1856, the Great Trigonometric Survey of India initiated the first official measurement of the mountain. Led by George Everest’s successor, Andrew Waugh, a team conducted an initial measurement using trigonometry and established that Peak XV, as it was known then, was the highest point in the world.

However, it wasn’t until 1858 that the mountain was officially named after Sir George Everest, the former Surveyor General of India, as a tribute to his efforts in mapping the Indian subcontinent. As the years went by, the measurements and calculations were refined, ultimately leading to the current accepted height of 8,848.86 meters (29,031.7 feet).

The History of Measuring Mount Everest

Mount Everest, known as the highest peak on Earth, has been a subject of fascination and exploration for centuries. However, accurately measuring its height has proven to be a challenging task.

The first recorded measurement of Mount Everest was made in 1852 by the Great Trigonometric Survey of India. The survey team, led by Sir George Everest, used a theodolite to calculate the peak’s height from a distance. Their measurement came to a staggering 29,002 feet, which was remarkably close to the mountain’s actual height.

Since then, several other expeditions have attempted to measure Mount Everest with more sophisticated methods. In 1955, a team led by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay used a combination of photogrammetry and triangulation to determine the peak’s height. Their measurement came to 29,028.87 feet, which is still considered one of the most accurate measurements to this day.

In recent years, advancements in technology have allowed for even more precise measurements of Mount Everest. In 1999, a team of American scientists used GPS technology to measure the peak’s elevation. Their measurement came to 29,035 feet, a slight increase from previous measurements.

Measuring Mount Everest continues to be an ongoing endeavor, as new technologies and techniques are developed. The accurate measurement of this iconic peak not only provides valuable scientific data, but also adds to the rich history of exploration and human achievement.

Early Explorations and Estimations

Before Mount Everest was officially measured, it captured the imagination of many explorers and mountaineers. The early expeditions to Everest in the 19th century were primarily focused on mapping and understanding the geography of the Himalayas.

One of the first notable explorations of Everest was carried out by the Great Trigonometric Survey of India in 1849. Led by Sir George Everest, the survey aimed to measure the height of various peaks in the Himalayas, including what would later be known as Mount Everest. However, due to technical limitations at the time, the height of Everest remained unmeasured.

Another early estimation of Everest’s height was made by Andrew Waugh, the successor of Sir George Everest, in 1856. Using a technique called triangulation, Waugh calculated the height of the mountain to be 29,002 feet (8,840 meters). This estimation was later revised to 29,028 feet (8,848 meters), which is very close to the currently accepted height of Everest.

Despite these early estimations, it wasn’t until the 20th century that more accurate measurements of Everest were obtained. Expeditions led by various countries, including Britain and the United States, used advanced surveying techniques and equipment to finally determine the true height of the world’s highest peak. These measurements were then widely accepted and have been used as the official height ever since.

Early explorations and estimations of Everest played a crucial role in fueling the interest in conquering the mountain and eventually led to the successful summit attempts in the following decades.

The Great Trigonometric Survey

The Great Trigonometric Survey, conducted by the British East India Company in the 19th century, played a crucial role in measuring the height of Mount Everest. Led by Sir George Everest, the survey aimed to accurately determine the positions and elevations of various points in the Indian subcontinent.

The survey started in 1802 and took over 50 years to complete. It involved a vast network of trigonometric measurements and calculations, spanning across thousands of miles. The primary method used was triangulation, where distances and angles were measured between distant points to calculate their positions and elevations.

The surveyors faced numerous challenges during their expeditions. They had to navigate through difficult terrain, thick forests, and even deal with wild animals and hostile tribes. Additionally, the equipment used, such as theodolites and measuring chains, proved to be heavy and cumbersome to transport.

Despite these challenges, the surveyors persevered and made significant progress. The measurements taken during the survey were instrumental in creating accurate maps of the Indian subcontinent. They also provided valuable data for scientific research, including the measurement of Mount Everest.

Mount Everest, known as Peak XV at the time, had long been a subject of speculation regarding its height. As part of the survey, the British surveyors calculated the height of Peak XV to be 29,002 feet (8,840 meters) above sea level, making it the highest mountain in the world.

Although the surveyors’ measurements of Mount Everest were impressive for their time, technological advancements later revealed that the actual height of the mountain was slightly different. Nevertheless, the Great Trigonometric Survey remains a remarkable achievement and an important milestone in the history of Everest measurement.

Andrew Waugh’s Expedition

During the Great Trigonometric Survey, Andrew Waugh led the first official measurement expedition to Everest in 1856. The survey was commissioned by the British East India Company to map the region and gather data for future military operations. Waugh, as the Surveyor General of India, was responsible for overseeing the expedition and conducting the measurements.

Waugh’s team consisted of several accomplished surveyors and mountaineers who were tasked with reaching the summit of Everest and accurately measuring its height. They faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather conditions, treacherous terrain, and limited resources. Despite these difficulties, the team’s determination and expertise allowed them to make significant progress.

On the expedition, Waugh’s team used a combination of trigonometric and barometric measurements to calculate the height of Everest. They set up multiple survey points at different altitudes around the mountain and measured the angles of elevation to the summit from each location. These measurements, combined with barometric pressure readings taken at various elevations, allowed them to make accurate calculations.

After months of hard work and meticulous measurements, the team concluded that the height of Everest was 29,002 feet (8,840 meters) above sea level. This measurement was later adjusted by later surveys and modern technology, but Waugh’s expedition laid the groundwork for subsequent measurements and ignited a fascination with Everest that continues to this day.

Waugh’s expedition to measure Everest was a landmark event in the history of mountaineering and cartography. It provided valuable data for scientific research and paved the way for future explorations of the world’s highest peak. Despite the challenges they faced, Waugh and his team’s dedication and skill were instrumental in accurately measuring Everest for the first time.

Radhanath Sikdar’s Calculation

In 1852, a mathematician and surveyor named Radhanath Sikdar made an important calculation that helped determine the exact height of Mount Everest.

Sikdar was a member of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, which was tasked with measuring and mapping the Indian subcontinent. He was assigned to calculate the height of the world’s highest mountain, which was known as Peak XV at the time.

Using trigonometry and surveying techniques, Sikdar made a critical observation. He noticed that the peak of Mount Everest was actually not the highest point on the mountain. There was a snow-covered ridge slightly higher than the peak itself.

Sikdar realized that the ridge was the true summit of the mountain, and he used this information to make his calculation. He measured the height of the peak and then added the height of the ridge to determine the total height of Mount Everest.

After extensive calculations, Sikdar announced that Mount Everest was 29,002 feet (8,840 meters) high. This was remarkably close to the modern measurement of 29,029 feet (8,848 meters), which was determined using modern satellite technology in the 20th century.

Sikdar’s calculation was a groundbreaking achievement and paved the way for future explorations of the mountain. His precise measurement of Mount Everest’s height has been widely accepted and recognized ever since.

Today, Radhanath Sikdar is considered a pioneer in the field of surveying and his contribution to the measurement of Mount Everest remains an important part of its history.

The Survey of India

The Survey of India is the oldest and one of the most prestigious survey departments in the world. It was established in 1767 under the British East India Company, and today it operates as an agency under the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of India.

The primary objective of the Survey of India is to maintain topographic mapping and geodetic control. It is responsible for mapping the entire country, including its borders, coastlines, and internal features. The department conducts surveys and cartographic mapping at various scales, ranging from small-scale regional maps to large-scale detailed maps.

One of the significant contributions of the Survey of India was its involvement in the measurement of Mount Everest. In the early 19th century, a British surveyor named George Everest was appointed as the Surveyor General of India. Under his leadership, the Great Trigonometric Survey was carried out, which aimed to determine the exact height of the world’s highest peak.

The Great Trigonometric Survey started in 1802 and continued for several decades. The surveyors used a combination of trigonometry and geodetic measurements to determine the height of various peaks in the Himalayas, including Mount Everest.

In 1852, after years of calculations and measurements, the height of Mount Everest was finally established as 29,002 feet (8,840 meters) above sea level. This measurement was remarkably accurate, especially considering the challenging terrain and lack of modern surveying tools available at that time.

The Survey of India has since continued its work in mapping and surveying, utilizing modern technologies such as aerial photography and satellite imagery. It plays a vital role in the development of infrastructure, urban planning, and natural resource management in India.

The legacy of the Survey of India’s involvement in measuring Mount Everest remains a testament to the organization’s dedication to scientific excellence and its contributions to the field of surveying and mapping.

Modern Techniques and Accurate Measurements

Over the years, advancements in technology have greatly improved the accuracy of measuring Mount Everest. In the past, surveyors relied on basic methods such as trigonometry and theodolites to calculate its height. However, these techniques had limitations and often led to inconsistencies.

Today, satellite-based technology, specifically the Global Positioning System (GPS), has revolutionized the way Everest’s height is measured. GPS allows for precise positioning by using signals from multiple satellites to calculate exact coordinates. This has significantly improved the accuracy of height measurements.

In addition to GPS, modern expeditions also utilize advanced instruments like the laser range finder and the gravity meter. Laser range finder devices use laser beams to measure the distance between the device and a specific point on the mountain, which helps calculate its elevation. Gravity meters, on the other hand, measure slight variations in gravity caused by changes in elevation, providing further accuracy to height calculations.

Furthermore, modern expeditions have access to high-resolution satellite imagery, which aids in the precise identification of Mount Everest’s summit and base point. This eliminates any confusion or ambiguity that may have existed in the past, ensuring accurate measurements.

Combined, these advanced techniques and instruments have allowed for much more accurate measurements of Mount Everest. With the use of technology and improved methodologies, climbers and surveyors can now determine its exact height, leaving no room for doubt or uncertainty.

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Everest measuring altitude

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Charlotte Williams

Charlotte Williams, a cosmopolitan writer based in Wilmington, is the ultimate local expert for family travel at TravelAsker. Drawing on her extensive global experiences, from Paris to Bali, her articles are a treasure trove of invaluable information. With an intimate knowledge of Wilmington’s attractions, resorts, hotels, activities, and restaurants, she adds a maternal touch to her work, guiding readers towards creating cherished family memories in Delaware and beyond.

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