QWhat is meant by the term prominence and how is it different to the summit height of a mountain?
If you have ever Googled the height of a mountain, alongside its absolute elevation above sea level you will likely have also been given its prominence. Topographical prominence is a calculation of a mountain’s height relative to its surrounding area, or the next nearest ‘parent peak’. A parent peak is the closest higher mountain to another mountain on the same ridge. Prominence is calculated by measuring the vertical distance from a peak to the lowest contour line between that and the nearest higher (parent) peak. This point is called the key col.
Prominence is significant as a mountain with a large prominence is very often the highest mountain in a given area, and subsequently such peaks tend to boast spectacular views. Low prominence peaks are either subsidiary tops of loftier neighbouring peaks or relatively diminutive independent summits.
A good example of a recognisable mountain with great prominence is Denali in the United States, which has an elevation of 6190m and prominence of 6140m. Conversely, despite having an elevation of 964m, the prominence of England’s second-highest mountain, Scafell, is just 133m, with the lowest contour on the Mickledore ridge that connects to its parent peak, Scafell Pike. The parent peak of Scafell Pike, which has a prominence of 912m, is Snowdon, despite the two mountains being over 100 miles apart as the crow flies!