Earthquake-induced mountaineering

By David Jacobson, Temblor

See earthquakes globally

Mt. Everest (left) with its sister peak Nuptse in the foreground. Studies show that Everest may have shrunk by up to a meter following the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. (Photo from Live Science)


On April 25, 2015, a M=7.8 earthquake shook Nepal, leaving nearly 9,000 people dead, and millions more homeless. From the violent shaking, buildings collapsed, landslides were triggered, and on Mt. Everest, an avalanche killed 21 people. Now, nearly two years later, an expedition has been planned to determine if the quake caused the world’s tallest mountain to shrink.

At 29,029 feet, Mt. Everest is over 700 feet taller than its closest rival, K2. However, it has been over 60 years since its elevation was last measured. Additionally, technology in 1955 was nowhere near what it is today. Furthermore, recent satellite imagery revealed a shorter-than-advertised Mt. Everest. Therefore, this expedition offers an opportunity to assign Everest its true elevation.

Following the April 2015 earthquake, the European Space Agency released an interferogram suggesting the summit of the mountain may have fallen by 1-inch. An interferogram is a satellite measurement of ground deformation. Such images ar often produced following large earthquakes to analyze the extent of elevation changes. While a 1-inch difference is small, according to a report by CNN, scientists now believe the mountain may have shrunk by as much as 1 meter.

In order to determine the exact elevation of Mt. Everest, a team will be sent to the summit, where they will take accurate GPS measurements. The entire expedition will cost over $800,000 and will take over 6 months to complete. (Photo from


In order to determine the elevation of the mountain, a 30-member team will be sent to the mountain. Over the course of 6 months, the team will travel to the mountain, and barring weather complications, summit the mountain to place instruments. Using a combination of precise GPS measurements and triangulation, the team hopes to narrow in on Everest’s true elevation. To ensure accurate measurements, a receiver will be installed at Everest Base Camp to boost the signal. Once the instruments are in place, the team will study the signals and convert them to an elevation. In theory, this could provide accuracy within a few centimeters.

Even after an elevation is calculated, it will still be unclear exactly how much the mountain moved in the 2015 earthquake. Due to subduction of the Indian Plate underneath Asia, the Himalayas are uplifted approximately 0.4 inches per year. Nonetheless, the $800,000 expedition is also a source of pride to a region. So, now all we have to do is wait until the numbers come in.


The Washington Post