The tallest mountain on Earth- and why it’s not Mt. Everest

A Moment of Science

From a mere 7 feet above sea level at Waterfront Park to 48′ at the airport, the closest thing we have to mountains are molehills compared to South Carolina’s highest point of 3,553 feet: Sassafras Mountain.

This beautiful summit upstate in Pickens county gives a stunning view of the surrounding Blue Ridge- some of the oldest mountains on Earth. Estimated to be over a billion years old, the Appalachians were once much, much taller but years of erosion have shaved them down to their now rounded, and much shorter peaks.. 

The Palmetto State’s highest point resides upstate near the border of North Carolina.

Today, the new kid on the block, Mt. Everest, with a geologically young age of approximately 60 millions years old, reigns as the highest point above sea level in the world. However, its claim to the “tallest mountain on Earth” is complicated.

There’s no denying that its elevation, or altitude, of 29,032 feet above sea level is greater than any other peak, but it is not the tallest mountain in the world.  That prize goes to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii. While it towers roughly 14,000 feet above the island, much of its height lies submerged below sea level. From its base well underneath the Pacific to the summit, Mauna Kea measures in at 33,484 feet- over 4 thousand feet taller than Mt. Everest. 

Technically the tallest mountain on Earth, Mauna Kea’s peak is less than half as high as Mt. Everest.


While Mt. Everest has a higher altitude, and Mauna Kea is taller- there is one mountain you’ve never heard of that beats them both as the highest point on Earth. You see, our planet isn’t perfectly spherical- it bulges in the middle, like this beach ball! If we take this equatorial bulge into account, Mount Chimborazo, lying just one degree south of the equator in Ecuador, becomes the “world’s highest point above the center of the earth.”

I swear this is the last fake out.
If you consider the tallest peak as “closest point on Earth to the sun,” Mount Chimborazo is your guy…or mountain.

Mt. Everest, located at 28 degrees north doesn’t even come close when measured this way. Directly comparing the two above sea level shows how this way of measuring heights can be misleading- but still accurate. 

But no matter how you define the “highest mountain,” pretty much anything is taller than what we have here in the Lowcountry!

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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