Why cannot mountains on Earth get a lot increased than those which can be right here now?

Why cannot mountains on Earth get a lot increased than those which can be right here now?

The best mountains on Earth tower nearly 9,000 metres above sea stage, and are all on the Tibetan Plateau in Asia — within the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges.

Essentially the most well-known are Mount Everest (additionally known as Chomolungma), K2 and Lhotse.

“Mountains can’t get a lot increased than those who exist now,” Haakon Fossen stated to sciencenorway.no.

Fossen is a professor of geology on the College of Bergen, and sciencenorway.no has interviewed him about excessive mountains on Earth and in the remainder of the photo voltaic system.

As people have despatched out probes and mapped the floor of different planets, these spacecrafts have recognized large mountain peaks in our personal photo voltaic system — no less than in comparison with what we have now on Earth.

There are a number of sorts of mountains. Some are volcanoes, whereas others are mountains that kind as plates within the crust push and collide with one another.

And there are some pure guidelines that govern how excessive mountains on Earth and different planets might be, Fossen stated.


There’s a tiny little continent wedged between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates

Mountains are pressed down and constructed up

There are two necessary components particularly that have an effect on how excessive mountains might be on Earth, Fossen stated.

  • The primary is the Earth’s gravity, which consistently pushes all the things down.
  • The second is the energy of the Earth’s crust underneath the mountains.

The Earth’s floor consists of comparatively skinny plates that float on high of the mantle — the new rock that lies beneath. The mantle is semi-solid — no less than whenever you have a look at it from a geological time scale, the place it behaves like a viscous fluid.

Though there are a number of sorts of mountains, the best mountains on Earth are fashioned when the Earth’s continental plates collide with one another.

The Himalayas are a dramatic instance of how mountains on Earth are fashioned. About 40-50 million years in the past, the Indian plate started to crash into the Eurasian plate, and the Himalayan mountains shot up.

However sooner or later, mountains can’t develop any taller, even when the collision continues, based on the Vox information web site.

Why cannot mountains on Earth get a lot increased than those which can be right here now?

The Tibetan Plateau seen from area.

The equilibrium

“It’s simpler to create excessive mountains in the course of the first 15-20 million years of the collision,” Fossen stated.

However sooner or later they nearly cease rising. Deep beneath the mountains which can be pushed up, the Earth’s crust is being pushed down and heated — each from the underside and from radioactive substances contained in the rock itself.

The heating makes the deep components of the mountain softer, similtaneously gravity is pushing all the things down.

“Ultimately it begins to break down — very like whenever you put yeasted pastry dough on a desk,” he stated.

The forces that kind and form the mountains attain an equilibrium — the forces within the collision trigger the mountains to develop, similtaneously the Earth’s crust beneath the heavy mountains softens, melts and “flows” outwards — as a result of the mountains are pressed down by gravity. The mountains are additionally formed and eroded by climate, wind, rivers and ice.


Wind erosion has created a sculpture park in Antarctica

Geological surveys of the Tibetan Plateau present that this top restrict — the equilibrium top — is round 5,000 metres above sea stage on common, Fossen stated. There are particular person mountains which can be a lot increased than this, however that is the common.

“You will get native peaks like Mount Everest that rise above this equilibrium top, but it surely’s not consultant of the common,” he stated.

Consequently, native, random variations assist decide how excessive a mountain might be, similar to rock sorts, rainfall, assist from the encircling plateau and different native variations. However it’s unlikely that there have ever been mountains which can be increased than the best peaks that exist now, Fossen stated.

However these are the situations on Earth. Different planets have utterly totally different bodily parameters, which additionally leads to utterly totally different mountain heights.

Illustration showing a boundary between two tectonic plates. The plates ‘float’ on top of the more liquid magma below. One plate is pushed up and creates a mountain range.

Illustration exhibiting a boundary between two tectonic plates. The plates ‘float’ on high of the extra liquid magma under. One plate is pushed up and creates a mountain vary.

Volcano and mountain?

There isn’t a clear definition of what a mountain is, Fossen stated to sciencenorway.no.

What’s also known as the best mountain within the photo voltaic system is Olympus Mons on Mars. This can be a volcano that’s about 22 kilometres excessive. The height is called after the house of the gods in Greek mythology — Olympus.

This hovering volcano was capable of be created on Mars as a result of particular situations on Mars itself.

Olympus Mons as it appears on the Martian surface.

Olympus Mons because it seems on the Martian floor.

First, Mars has a lot decrease gravity than Earth, solely about 38 per cent of what’s discovered right here, based on NASA. This implies the forces that restrict mountain development are weaker, and mountains can theoretically grow to be a lot increased than on Earth.

However Olympus Mons is an extinct volcano and got here into existence fairly otherwise from the tectonic processes that created the Tibetan Plateau, residence of the Himalayas. It fashioned greater than three billion years in the past, based on this examine within the journal JGR Planets.

When Olympus Mons fashioned, Mars was a geologically lively planet. The volcano was fashioned by magma from the planet’s inside, which can have pushed up by way of the crust and constructed up the volcano over a really very long time, Fossen stated.

Mauna Kea in Hawaii is one of the highest volcanoes on earth.

Mauna Kea in Hawaii is without doubt one of the highest volcanoes on earth.

Earth can also be residence to some very excessive volcanoes. Among the many largest is Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is over 4,200 metres above sea stage. In the event you measure the volcano’s top from the seabed, Mauna Kea is 10,000 metres from backside to high.

Relying upon the factors you utilize to evaluate heights, Mauna Kea can be thought of the world’s highest mountain, based on Enterprise Insider.

However Mauna Kea lies on a plate that “floats” on the mantle under. Beneath the plate is a plume of warmth the place magma is lifted to the floor. This plume of warmth is fastened in the identical place, whereas the plate floats on high and strikes.

For the reason that plate strikes over this plume of warmth, the magma involves the floor in other places over geological time. You may see this off Hawaii, the place there’s a line of islands and seamounts which have been created over a protracted interval. The magma finds new methods out of the mantle over the course of many hundreds of thousands of years, which is clearly seen on the map under.

However no proof of tectonic plates has ever been discovered on Mars. It appears as if Olympus Mons has been capable of develop greater and greater as a result of it has remained in a single place.

Large mountain

There are additionally examples of mountains within the photo voltaic system which can be far bigger than these discovered right here on Earth — which can have been created by volcanic processes.

It’s unsure whether or not there’s something much like the Earth’s plate tectonics on different planets within the photo voltaic system, based on the EarthSky web site.

However there are a number of locations within the photo voltaic system the place mountains kind. One such world is the moon Io, which orbits the large planet Jupiter. The moon has been photographed by a number of probes, though no probe has ever landed there.

The moon Io, as imaged by NASA's Galileo probe in 1999. It is roughly the size of our own moon, but has lots of active volcanoes. But why it is like that and what drives the volcanoes is currently a mystery.

The moon Io, as imaged by NASA’s Galileo probe in 1999. It’s roughly the dimensions of our personal moon, however has a lot of lively volcanoes. However why it’s like that and what drives the volcanoes is at present a thriller.

It does seem that the moon may be very volcanically lively, and scientists have proposed theories about what is going on on Io, certainly one of which is described on this examine within the journal Nature Geoscience from 2017.

Io has very excessive, attribute mountains that rise many kilometres straight up from the plains. The best mountain is known as Boösaule Montes and might be as excessive as 18 kilometres in elevation.

This picture shows mountains sticking straight up from Io's surface. The images were taken by the Galileo probe. These are not the moon’s highest mountains, but they are several kilometres high.

This image reveals mountains sticking straight up from Io’s floor. The photographs have been taken by the Galileo probe. These will not be the moon’s highest mountains, however they’re a number of kilometres excessive.

An necessary level is that Io has a lot much less gravity than each Earth and Mars, with gravity that’s simply 18 per cent of the Earth’s.

The mountains on Io have totally different shapes and have been in comparison with massive slabs of rock which have been flipped on their aspect and pushed up by the crust, based on researchers behind this survey from the journal JGR planets. The researchers imagine that the mountains resemble what are known as flatiron formations present in some mountainous areas on Earth.

These distinctive flatiron mountains may resemble those found on the moon Io. But they are found in the United States, in Colorado.

These distinctive flatiron mountains could resemble these discovered on the moon Io. However they’re present in the US, in Colorado.

Precisely what processes are liable for Io’s mountains are unknown, however one concept means that Io’s innards are spewed out by volcanoes in such massive portions that there’s much less and fewer matter underneath the crust.

This causes the crust to shrink and crack open, inflicting massive blocks to be thrust up from the crust, based on Ars Technica.

Translated by Nancy Bazilchuk


Learn the Norwegian model of this text at forskning.no


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