Mt. Chimborazo, located in Equator, is technically the highest point on Earth. Sorry, Everest! Credit: gerdbreitenbach.de

What is the Highest Place on Earth?

Article Updated: 13 Jun , 2016

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Whenever the question is asked, what is the highest point on planet Earth?, people naturally assume that the answer is Mt. Everest. In fact, so embedded is the notion that Mt. Everest is the highest point on the world that most people wouldn’t even think twice before answering. And even when we talk of other huge mountains in the Solar System (like Mars’ Olympus Mons), we invariably compare them to Mt. Everest.

But in truth, Everest does not hold the record for being the highest point on Earth. Due to the nature of our planet – which is not shaped like a perfect sphere but an oblate spheroid (i.e. a sphere that bulges at the center) – points that are located along the equator are farther away than those located at the poles. When you factor this in, Everest and the Himalayas find themselves falling a bit short!

Earth as a Sphere:

The understanding that Earth is spherical is believed to have emerged during the 6th century BCE in ancient Greece. While Pythagoras is generally credited with this theory, it is equally likely that it emerged on its own as a result of travel between Greek settlements – where sailors noticed changes in what stars were visible at night based on differences in latitudes.

Earth - Western Hemisphere

Planet Earth, as seen from space above the Western Hemisphere. Credit: Reuters

By the 3rd century BCE, the idea of a spherical Earth began to become articulated as a scientific matter. By measuring the angle cast by shadows in different geographical locations, Eratosthenes – a Greek astronomer from Hellenistic Libya (276–194 BCE) – was able to estimate Earth’s circumference within a 5% – 15% margin of error. With the rise of the Roman Empire and their adoption of Hellenistic astronomy, the view of a spherical Earth became widespread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.

This knowledge was preserved thanks to the monastic tradition and Scholasticism during the Middle Ages. By the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution (mid 16th – late 18th centuries), the geological and heliocentric views of Earth became accepted as well. With the advent of modern astronomy, precise methods of measurement, and the ability to view Earth from space, our models of its true shape and dimensions have come to be refined considerably.

Modern Models of the Earth:

To clarify matters a little, the Earth is neither a perfect sphere, nor is it flat. Sorry Galileo, and sorry Flat-Earthers (not sorry!), but it’s true. As already noted, it is an oblate spheroid, which is a result of the rotation of the Earth. Basically, its spin results in a flattening at the poles and a bulging at its equatorial. This is true for many bodies in the Solar System (such as Jupiter and Saturn) and even rapidly-spinning stars like Altair.

Data from the Earth2014 global relief model, with distances in distance from the geocentre denoted by color. Credit: Geodesy2000

Data from the Earth2014 global relief model, with distances from the geocenter represented in color. Credit: Geodesy2000

Based on some of the latest measurements, it is estimated that Earth has a polar radius (i.e. from the middle of Earth to the poles) of 6,356.8 km, whereas its equatorial radius (from the center to the equator) is 6,378.1 km. In short, objects located along the equator are 22 km further away from the center of the Earth (geocenter) than objects located at the poles.

Naturally, there are some deviations in the local topography where objects located away from the equator are closer or father away from the center of the Earth than others in the same region. The most notable exceptions are the Mariana Trench – the deepest place on Earth, at 10,911 m (35,797 ft) below local sea level – and Mt. Everest, which is 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above local sea level. However, these two geological features represent a very minor variation when compared to Earth’s overall shape – 0.17% and 0.14% respectively.

Highest Point on Earth:

To be fair, Mt. Everest is one of the highest points on Earth, with its peak ascending to an altitude of 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level. However, due to its location within the Himalayan Mountain Chain in Nepal, some 27° and 59 minutes north of the equator, it is actually lower than mountains located in Ecuador.

It is here, where the land is dominated by the Andes mountain chain, that the highest point on planet Earth is located. Known as Mt. Chiborazo, the peak of this mountain reaches an attitude of 6,263.47 meters (20,549.54 ft) above sea level. But because it is located just 1° and 28 minutes south of the equator (at the highest point of the planet’s bulge), it receives a natural boost of about 21 km.

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Photo: Pavel Novak

Mount Everest, imaged from Kalapatthar. Credit: Pavel Novak

In terms of how far they are from the geocenter, Everest lies at a distance of 6,382.3 kilometers (3,965.8 miles) from the center of the Earth while Chimborazo reaches to a distance of 6,384.4 kilometers (3,967.1 miles). That’s a difference of about 2.1 km (1.3 miles), which may not seem like much. But if we’re talking about rankings and titles, it pays to be specific.

Naturally, there are those who would stress that Mt. Everest is still the tallest mountain, measured from base to peak. Unfortunately, here too, they would be incorrect. That prize goes to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano located on the island of Hawaii. Measuring 10,206 meters (33,484 ft) from base to summit, it is the highest mountain in the world. However, since its base is several thousand meters below seat level, we only see the top 4,207 m (13,802 ft) of it.

But if one were to say that Everest was tallest mountain based on its altitude, they would be correct. In terms of its summit’s elevation above sea level, Everest is ranked as being as the tallest mountain in the world. And when it comes to the sheer difficulty of ascending it, Everest will always be ranked no. 1, both in the records books and in the hearts of climbers everywhere!

We have written many interesting articles about the Earth and mountains here at Universe Today. Here’s Planet Earth, What is the Earth’s Diameter?, The Rotation of the Earth, and Mountains: How Are They Formed?

For more information, be sure to check out NASA’s Visible Earth, and “Highest Mountain in the World” at Geology.com.

Astronomy Cast also has a great episode on the subject – Episode 51: Earth.

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Random Sample
Member
Random Sample
May 22, 2016 5:26 PM

I’ve read, in the past, that Mt. Kilimanjaro was the farthest point from the center of the Earth. How does it compare to Mt. Chiborazo?

Jim
Guest
Jim
May 23, 2016 8:02 AM

Summated Kilimanjaro and it is the largest free standing mountain in the world.

rockretride
Guest
May 23, 2016 9:07 AM

Actually, it’s not. That would be the big Island of Hawaii (Mauna Kea) as measured from the sea-floor, but Kilimanjaro is the largest free-standing mountain entirely not submerged in the ocean. (I.e., Kilimanjaro doesn’t have have seawater lapping its sides roughly 60% of the way up.) Of course nobody has summited MK from its actual base. The equipment required to survive the entire ascent while actually climbing is still in the realm of science fiction.

mewo
Member
mewo
May 23, 2016 9:42 AM

Once you’re out of the water, you don’t need the diving suit anymore so you could just leave it on the beach and go on climbing without it.

C. Pacheco
Guest
C. Pacheco
May 22, 2016 5:31 PM

Does it mean that the air at Chimborazo is thinner than at the Everest?

Random Sample
Member
Random Sample
May 22, 2016 10:46 PM

I would not think so, since the elevation – the distance above sea level – is not as high as that of Everest.

Graniteman
Guest
Graniteman
May 23, 2016 12:21 AM

Uh, the question was about air density at the top of Everest vs Chimborazo. Your response didn’t really answer anything.

Pete
Guest
Pete
May 23, 2016 1:30 AM

He did answer the question, you just did understand the relevance. Because of the rotation of the Earth, sea level is also higher at the equator than poles, and air pressure at sea level is much the same over the whole planet. So altitude above sea level is the biggest factor when it comes to how thin the air is.

Cg Arnell
Guest
Cg Arnell
May 23, 2016 10:47 AM
The idea that the air pressure at ‘sea level’ is the same anywhere on the planet, thus implying the air pressure at the equator is the same as the poles may be*nearly true* with the small variation of radius of the Earth. However; Imagine the oblateness of the Earth at such an extreme that its more like a discus such as thrown at a track meet. In this extreme, the equator of the Earth might be protruding out of the atmosphere and thus having no air pressure at all. Stated simply, a case can be made that the air pressure at the top of those mountains most distant from the center of the Earth, due to oblateness, will… Read more »
Jeffrey Boerst
Member
May 23, 2016 2:08 AM

James Muscarella
Guest
May 23, 2016 4:32 AM

I think it has more to do with atmospheric pressure than O2 content.

James Muscarella
Guest
May 23, 2016 4:34 AM

The atmosphere was definitely thinner on Aconcagua 22.835′ than on Chimborazo 20,549′ and was a more difficult climb.

rockretride
Guest
May 23, 2016 9:10 AM

No. Altitude relative to sea-level is still altitude relative to sea-level. And that is what is going to determine atmospheric density/pressure.

jearley
Member
jearley
May 22, 2016 9:29 PM

Everest is not the most difficult mountain to climb. I believe that K2 is considered a much more difficult climb.

John
Guest
John
May 22, 2016 11:59 PM

I remember reading about some very remote and very high peaks in National Geographic. I think these were either in south east China near the border with Vietnam and Cambodia, from the description, because of the remoteness of the area and the unexplored territory these are some very difficult peaks to climb.

Chis
Guest
Chis
May 23, 2016 5:37 AM

Are you sure about that? China has no boundary with Cambodia. And the highest peak in Vietnam is Farsipan, with an altitude of approximately 3100m. I can think of many mountains in the Himalayas, Andes, Alps, Rockies, much more difficult than any in that area.

David
Guest
David
May 23, 2016 12:44 AM

Its depends on what you use to rate the most difficult. If its the ratio of deaths to attempts then Annapurna is the hardest. 38% of those climbing have died. The ratio for K2 is 27% and Everest is 6.7%.
1 in 3 is not my kind of odds.

Chis
Guest
Chis
May 23, 2016 5:30 AM

Hello David, your interpretation of the statistic is not correct. The “death rate” of a mountain is normally given as the ratio of deaths to successful summits, so the Annapurna ratio of 61 deaths to 191 summits means that roughly for every 3 climbers that reach the summit, another dies. But there are also many more climbers who attempt the summit but cannot complete the climb. The one who dies may of may have not reached the summit, so the percentage of dead climbers among the total climbers is actually lower.
Said that I agree that technically mount Everest is not really that difficult, specially when the ascension is done by the South route. K2 is much more difficult.

Dan
Guest
Dan
May 22, 2016 11:43 PM

The highest place on Earth is wherever Snoop Dog is.

Sri Lanka
Guest
Sri Lanka
May 23, 2016 7:31 AM

Ha ha ha …the best answer for the day…. might be for my life time.

Fraser Cain
Admin
May 23, 2016 10:13 AM

You just won the internet.

Graniteman
Guest
Graniteman
May 23, 2016 12:13 AM

Note to author: It’s not Chiborazo; it’s Chimborazo.

The author messed up the spelling when he revealed the name.

This article is far too long winded, btw. I explain this point about Chimborazo on occasion, myself, and it takes about four short sentences.

Jeffrey Boerst
Member
May 23, 2016 2:11 AM

…which would make a very gaunt article. Different forms of storytelling, no?

Brian
Guest
Brian
May 23, 2016 12:21 AM

Oh great, rewrite all we were taught & learned growing up. Next thing you’re going to tell us is there are only 8 planets in our solar system not 9!

JerryWC
Guest
JerryWC
May 23, 2016 6:40 AM

That depends on what you mean by planet. If you are talking all of the planets in our solar system then there are 8 primary planets and about 50 dwarf planets.

wld
Guest
wld
May 23, 2016 12:21 AM

Since sea level is purportedly rising and is higher at the equator than elsewhere, then the mountains are actually shrinking to this reference and they are shrinking more at the equator.

stiv
Guest
stiv
May 23, 2016 1:11 AM

good point waldo

Henry
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:17 AM

Everest actually gains between 1 1/2 and 3 inches a year because the African plate is pushing under the Eurasian plate and rising it between 3 and 4 inches a year with environment wearing away Everest 1 or more inches a year.

Fred S
Member
Fred S
May 23, 2016 2:28 AM

Really? I thought it was the Indian subcontinent’s northward drift that was causing the Himalayas, including Everest, to continue to rise.

Jeffrey Boerst
Member
May 23, 2016 2:11 AM

You really need to learn basic logic, fella…

Brad Holkesvig
Guest
Brad Holkesvig
May 23, 2016 12:25 AM

This is only true if you believe the earth is a real earth and not an illusion that is formed in your mind. I don’t have to believe in a real earth now because I know the Truth of our existence.

stiv
Guest
stiv
May 23, 2016 1:12 AM

good point ralph waldo

Abraham K
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:53 AM

And who do you think are reading your comments Brad?

Jack
Guest
Jack
May 23, 2016 12:56 AM

This is all nonsense. The earth is flat. Everyone knows that. Just look outside. Do you see a flat landscape or a sphere?

Big Mike
Guest
Big Mike
May 23, 2016 12:58 AM

Matt, this is a lame click-bait article. The norm is measuring from sea level, so your distance-from-the-center-of-the-earth, lIke the attention-seekers that talk about Hawaii being higher above the sea-bed than Everest is above local terrain, is nothing but sad.

Jeffrey Boerst
Member
May 23, 2016 2:21 AM

Ya, Matt how DARE you offer a perspective shift by using different metrics with which to conceive of our environment?!?! One mind, one thought!! (lmao)

hal
Guest
hal
May 23, 2016 1:18 AM

Since the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado, the highest place on earth is Denver.

mike
Guest
mike
May 23, 2016 9:42 AM

Nope = Denver + Colorado exports more pot to other states than could be smoked by every citizen (and visitor) in Denver 24/7/365(6).

BojanS
Guest
BojanS
May 23, 2016 1:19 AM

Today scientist dont know difference between diameter and height….

T Pallesen
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:42 AM

You mention that Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain from base to summit. While it’s relatively easy to determine the base of a shield volcano, how are you determining the base of Mt. Everest?

T Pallesen
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:44 AM

You mention that Mauna Kea is the highest mountain from base to summit. How are you determining the base of Mt. Everest?

Joe
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:46 AM

However, since its base is several thousand meters below seat level, we only see the top 4,207 m (13,802 ft) of it. —–What is SEAT level?

Fred S
Member
Fred S
May 23, 2016 2:33 AM

It’s wherever you’re sitting, man!

Joe
Guest
May 23, 2016 1:46 AM

However, since its base is several thousand meters below seat level, we only see the top 4,207 m (13,802 ft) of it. ————–What is SEAT level?

Gagik
Guest
Gagik
May 23, 2016 2:43 AM

Joe SEAT=See :smile

Calvin Luna
Guest
Calvin Luna
May 23, 2016 2:03 AM

At 19,000 ft. Cayambe is right on the equator. Has anyone ever thought about this giant?

Dude
Guest
Dude
May 23, 2016 2:04 AM

I thought it was Humboldt County in California

Fred S
Member
Fred S
May 23, 2016 2:14 AM

Of the various ways of defining “highest,” I don’t think much stock should be placed in base-to-peak, simply because assigning the base from which to measure, isn’t always well-defined.

But there is another take on this, that wasn’t mentioned here — farthest from Earth’s rotation axis.

By that criterion, the honor goes to Mt. Kenya in Africa. It’s really quite remarkable that, although its extremely low latitude (only 9 arc minutes south of the Equator!) isn’t enough to put it farther from Earth’s center than Chimborazo, it IS enough to put it farther from Earth’s axis!

Jack S
Guest
May 23, 2016 10:15 AM

Which works well at the equator, but a 30,000′ mountain 5 or 10 degrees south of the North Pole (or north of the South Pole) would be taller than Everest, but not far from the axis, so by your definition, that 30,000′ mountain would be a very short mountain.

Keith S
Guest
May 23, 2016 2:18 AM

I can’t wait to bring this up at the next party I go to. Then people will like me.

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