In 1856, Andrew Waugh announced Everest (then known as Peak XV) as 29,002 ft (8,840 m) high, after several years of calculations based on observations made by the Great Trigonometric Survey.
The 8,848 m (29,029 ft) height given in this article is officially recognised by Nepal and China. On 9 October 2005, after several months of measurement and calculation, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping officially announced the height of Everest as 8,844.43 m (29,017.16 ft) with accuracy of ±0.21 m (0.69 ft). They claimed it was the most accurate and precise measurement to date. This height is based on the actual highest point of rock and not on the snow and ice covering it. The Chinese team also measured a snow/ice depth of 3.5 m (11 ft), which is in agreement with a net elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft). The snow and ice thickness varies over time, making a definitive height of the snow cap impossible to determine.
The elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft) was first determined by an Indian survey in 1955, made closer to the mountain, also using theodolites. It was subsequently reaffirmed by a 1975 Chinese measurement 8,848.13 m (29,029.30 ft). In both cases the snow cap, not the rock head, was measured. In May 1999 an American Everest Expedition, directed by Bradford Washburn, anchored a GPS unit into the highest bedrock. A rock head elevation of 8,850 m (29,035 ft), and a snow/ice elevation 1 m (3 ft) higher, were obtained via this device. Although it has not been officially recognized by Nepal, this figure is widely quoted. Geoid uncertainty casts doubt upon the accuracy claimed by both the 1999 and 2005 surveys.
A detailed photogrammetric map (at a scale of 1:50,000) of the Khumbu region, including the south side of Mount Everest, was made by Erwin Schneider as part of the 1955 International Himalayan Expedition, which also attempted Lhotse. An even more detailed topographic map of the Everest area was made in the late 1980s under the direction of Bradford Washburn, using extensive aerial photography.
It is thought that the plate tectonics of the area are adding to the height and moving the summit northeastwards. Two accounts suggest the rates of change are 4 mm (0.16 in) per year (upwards) and 3 to 6 mm (0.12 to 0.24 in) per year (northeastwards), but another account mentions more lateral movement (27 mm/1.1 in), and even shrinkage has been suggested.
The summit of Everest is the point at which the Earth's surface reaches the greatest distance above sea level. Several other mountains are sometimes claimed as alternative "tallest mountains on Earth". Mauna Kea in Hawaii is tallest when measured from its base; it rises over 10,200 m (6.3 mi) when measured from its base on the mid-ocean floor, but only attains 4,205 m (13,796 ft) above sea level.
By the same measure of base to summit, Mount McKinley, in Alaska, is also taller than Everest. Despite its height above sea level of only 6,193.6 m (20,320 ft), Mount McKinley sits atop a sloping plain with elevations from 300 m (980 ft) to 900 m (3,000 ft), yielding a height above base in the range of 5,300 to 5,900 m (17,400 to 19,400 ft); a commonly quoted figure is 5,600 m (18,400 ft). By comparison, reasonable base elevations for Everest range from 4,200 m (13,800 ft) on the south side to 5,200 m (17,100 ft) on the Tibetan Plateau, yielding a height above base in the range of 3,650 to 4,650 m (11,980 to 15,260 ft).
The summit of Chimborazo in Ecuador is 2,168 m (7,113 ft) farther from the Earth's centre (6,384.4 km (3,967.1 mi)) than that of Everest (6,382.3 km (3,965.8 mi)), because the Earth bulges at the Equator. However, Chimborazo attains a height of only 6,267 m (20,561 ft) above sea level, and by this criterion it is not even the highest peak of the Andes.