The Controversy of Height

According to the BBC, international scientific co-operation has broken out between the Chinese and Nepalese governments as they have finally agreed to agree over the height of Mount Everest. The long-standing controversy over this issue has hinged on a vital difference of opinion: Does the height include the snow cap or not? For years, the Chinese have argued that it does not; one should only measure up to the top of the rock summit. Accordingly, the height came in at a paltry 8,844.43m instead of the 8,848.0m claimed by the Nepalese. However, a historic joint announcement has just been made regarding the latest measurement, with both parties agreeing to include the snow on the peak. Complete with snowy topping, the Everest now comes in at a majestic 8,848.86m. This is nearly one metre more than the previously measured snowy figure.

I don’t need telepathic powers to know what you are all thinking at this point: How come the BBC has failed to link this seismic news to global warming? According to the BBC, everything – and I do mean everything – that happens in the natural world is a consequence of global warming, and every single scientific advancement provides evermore convincing evidence of its pernicious impact. The growth of Mount Everest can be no exception. So why no BBC fanfare? Why no quote from a scientist saying, “Yep, growing mountains. That’s exactly what we would expect from our climate models.”

Maybe it is because the only previous pronouncement on the subject the BBC could find was that made by environmental Scientist John All of Western Washington University:

“During the driest/warmest period of the year, the peak may have lost up to a metre in the past one and a half decades.”

It may have, but it turns out that it didn’t.

Then there was Anil Kulkarni, a glaciologist at Divecha Centre for Climate Change, Indian Institute of Science:

“The Snow cap above Mount Everest is thinning. So the actual altitude is also decreasing.”

Yes, by about minus 0.86m as it turns out.

There is, of course, a perfectly simple explanation for this apparent paradox. When one determines the height of a mountain, one measures the vertical distance between its base and its peak. So it matters just as much where you consider the base to be as it does where the peak ends. Naturally enough, the chosen base will be at sea level, but global warming has been causing the sea level to rise and hence the vertical distance will have…

No, just a minute. Let me think this one through a bit more. I know this is all to do with global warming. I just need a bit longer to work it out.

I’ll get back to you.

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December 8, 2020 at 08:47AM

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