Building on the work carried out 280 years ago in what were then “the lands of the Equator” by a team of French and Spanish explorers, scientists at France’s Institute for Research and Development (IRD) have established that Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which stands 6,268 meters above sea level, is actually 6,384 kilometers from the Earth’s core, making it two kilometers higher than Mount Everest due to differences in the planet’s diameter on different continents.
The measurements, which have a 10-centimeter margin of error, show that the volcano is exactly 6,384,415.98 meters from the center of the Earth
“Because of the legacy they left us we know that peaks around the equator are further from the center of the Earth, but there was no unit to measure the greatest distance from the center,” explains Jean Mathieu Nocquet of the IRD. To put the theory to the test, an expedition of French and Ecuadorian scientists climbed Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain, in February and placed a GPS device at the summit with a 60-centimeter antenna that receives signals from 15 satellites from different countries. “In order to obtain precise data we leave the GPS for two hours and then process the information collected during that time,” says Mathiew Perrault of France’s Geophysical Institute (IG).
The measurements, which have a 10-centimeter margin of error, show that the volcano is exactly 6,384,415.98 meters from the center of the Earth, making Chimborazo the nearest place on the planet to the Sun.
The use of GPS technology helped confirm that Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, was actually higher than believed, at 4,810.4 meters instead of 4,807 meters. Mount Everest in Nepal is officially measured at 8,848 meters high, although GPS data shows it is actually 8,846.4 meters high.
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The celebration of the 280th anniversary of the first geodesic mission has provided an opportunity to commemorate France and Ecuador’s shared history, the first event of which was the expedition to Chimborazo. The French Embassy in Quito plans to host several events in the Andean country throughout July that will include scientific debates, exhibitions in schools, and conferences. One of the more curious events will be a 17th-century-style dinner as might have been enjoyed by the members of the first expedition when they arrived in Ecuador 1736.
English version by Dyane Jean François.