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Swiss know-how used to measure world’s highest peaks

Scientist Olivier Eschmann uses Leica's GPS technology to measure the height of the Matterhorn Keystone Archive

Technology designed by the Swiss firm, Leica Geosystems, is being used to determine the precise height of the highest peak in the Americas. A scientific expedition expects to announce the elevation of Mt Aconcagua at the end of May.

An Italian-Argentinian scientific expedition, led by geologist Giorgio Poretti, has been dispatched to the Andes Mountains to provide the most accurate measurement to date of Mount Aconcagua.

Using the latest global positioning (GPS) equipment, developed by Heerbrugg-based Leica Geosystems, the team aims to determine the exact eight of summit, give or take a few millimetres.

The first person to successfully conquer the mountain was a Swiss, Matthias Zurbriggen, who reached the summit on February 14, 1897.

GPS surveying equipment, designed by the Swiss firm, has been used on previous expeditions to determine the true heights of Asia’s Mount Everest and Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Both peaks were found to lie at an altitude of two metres less than previous measurements had indicated. Poretti’s team will be looking to see whether this “shrinking” trend applies to Mount Aconcagua – which is believed to be 6960 metres high.

“In the past, highly precise measurements of the world’s summits were not possible due to technological limitations,” said a spokesman for Leica Geosystems. “However, with the emergence in the past decade of extremely accurate GPS surveying equipment, there has been a drive to re-survey and confirm the exact height of the tallest peaks in each of the continents.”

The portable Leica GPS System 500, which is being used by Poretti’s team of geologists, glaciologists, surveyors and climbers, uses microwave signals emitted by satellites to measure altitude to within a few millimetres.

The results of the expedition to Mount Aconcagua, which lies near the borders of Argentina and Chile, are expected at the end of May.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR