Is Mount Mauna Kea of USA taller than the Mount Everest?

Do you know that you could scale the tallest mountain on Earth, but only climb less than half of Mt. Everest’s height to do so?

Well, it’s possible for sure!

From 6th grade Science Quiz Bees to merely and generally knowing it, people believe that Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, and sure, that’s true.

Mount Mauna Kea of Hawaii Island

However, that is only true if referring to is the tallest mountain above sea level. It is a different case if talking about the tallest mountain in the globe, whether it is below or above sea level and merely by sheer height.

The tallest mountain in the world is not on snowy ragged rock beds, like how Mt. Everest is famously depicted but instead found near the sun-bathed, tropical islands of Hawaii, USA. The Native Hawaiians call this towering giant as Mauna Kea, named after the Hawaiian God of the Sky, Wakea.

To break it down technically, Mt. Everest stands 29, 035 feet above sea level while Mauna Kea sits at 13, 796 feet. However, for measurements taken below the Pacific Ocean, it extends to approximately 19,700 feet, which amounted to a total of 33, 500 feet! Over half of its height is underwater.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano aging to around one million years old. Submarine eruptions on the seafloor took place as the Pacific tectonic plate moved over the Hawaiian Hotspot, creating this colossal volcano-mountain. Its last explosion occurred around 4500 years ago. Because its lava is more viscous, it has a steeper profile. This volcano is one of five that forms the island of Hawaii, wherein Mauna Kea is the 4th oldest and 4th most active.

With various small cinder and pumice cones, Mauna Kea is an exciting sight. However, it has no visible summit caldera to boast. It was then said to be possible that a summit caldera was filled and buried by impactful eruptions.

Lying on the Puʻu Waiau cinder cone, is the only alpine lake in Hawaii, Lake Waiau. This tiny and shallow lake is the highest in the Pacific Basin. However, it started to drain in 2010 and had almost disappeared in 2013. Fortunately, storms filled this lake up in 2014, but as to why the lake exists, it still isn’t clear.

However, Mauna Kea wasn’t only layered upon by burning, viscous lava but also known to have been the only Hawaiian Volcano that was glaciated. It means that for a time, glaciers, which are masses of ice, formed by its surface. Below, it has lower slopes that are fertile for agriculture and are grounds for the growth of many coffee trees.

This geological giant is home to two endangered and endemic species, the Nene Goose & Silversword Plant. The Nene Goose, which is the official bird of the State of Hawaii, actually moos like a cow and is considered the world’s rarest goose. The Silversword plant is called the “Crown Jewel” of Mauna Kea and grows nowhere else on the planet.

Another fascinating creature of Mauna Kea was discovered in 1979: The Weiku bug (Nysius wekiuicola). It is flightless and a mini predator about the size of a grain of rice! These insects depend on the gust of wind that blows upon the mountain for fresh insects from lower elevations and hunts for prey lodged in crevices and scoria. Their amazing blood chemistry is what keeps them from freezing at 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. From another mountain is its sister species, The Nysius a `a from Mauna Loa.

Its summit is a pristine paradise for astronomy and astrology enthusiasts. Because of the clear skies that blanket it from above, low humidity, and distance from light pollution, it offers an exceptional view of the observable outer space. No wonder this mountain houses 13 telescopes! One of which is the Keck Observatory, which has the world’s largest optical and infrared telescopes.

However, the construction of the 14th telescope has sparked mass protests by Native Hawaiians because they consider this as sacred grounds. They believe that this was where the Sky Father Wakea married Earth Mother Papahānaumoku, and so is culturally and spiritually significant. As Mauna Kea is considered “region of the gods, it’s also believed that water spirits live there. Because of the reverence the natives paid to their deities, there used to be an ancient law that only those of high ranks could visit the summit. The locals also respect lake Waiau as it is considered as the umbilical cord that connects the Earth to the Heavens.

Whatever decision would be made for Mauna Kea, it cannot be denied that the tallest mountain of the world has so much in store for humanity to explore. Appreciate and marvel- from rare flora and fauna to distinct geological features to its cultural value to the Native Hawaiians and scientific value to researchers. Mauna Kea indeed is more than just the tallest mountain in the world!

Additional reading:
Mauna Kea (Wikipedia)
Mount Everest (Wikipedia)

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