New Zealand's Tallest Mountain Has Shrunk

Ice collapse decades ago knocks almost 100 feet off Mount Cook

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 16, 2014 3:26 PM CST

(Newser) – The highest point in New Zealand is about 100 feet shorter than we thought. A new measurement of Aoraki/Mount Cook puts its height at roughly 12,217.8 feet, down from an official listed height of 12,316.3 feet, Stuff.co.nz reports. That discrepancy likely isn't due to a measuring error either; Dr. Pascal Sirguey at the Otago National School of Surveying, which produced the new measurement, thinks the mountain has actually gotten shorter, thanks to the long-term fallout from a 1991 rock-ice collapse.

At the time, the collapse was believed to have knocked only about 33 feet off the peak, but the researcher believes that may have changed in the years that followed. "It appears that there was still a relatively thick ice cap, which was most likely out of balance with the new shape of the summit ridge," Sirguey says. "As a result, the ice cap has been subjected to erosion over the past 20 years." The Otago team climbed the mountain to get its measurement, but was careful not to actually step on the summit, because it's considered sacred by New Zealand's indigenous Maori people. You can see pictures of the expedition over at LiveScience. (America's tallest peak also got a little shorter this year—for a different reason entirely.)

Japanese climber Hideaki Nara waits on the side of Mount Cook for rescue by helicopter in New Zealand's South Island, Friday, Dec. 5, 2008.
Japanese climber Hideaki Nara waits on the side of Mount Cook for rescue by helicopter in New Zealand's South Island, Friday, Dec. 5, 2008.   (AP Photo/Christchurch Press,John Kirk Anderson,)
This 2009 photo shows the snow-capped Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook, in New Zealand.
This 2009 photo shows the snow-capped Aoraki, also known as Mount Cook, in New Zealand.   (AP Photo/Kathy Matheson)
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