Researchers unearth super-mountains that are three times longer than the Himalayas

Fareeha Arshad
Photo byPhoto by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered evidence of two ancient colossal mountain ranges that existed on Earth, which they call "super-mountains." These super-mountains were as tall as the Himalayas and stretched thousands of miles farther, splitting ancient supercontinents.

The researchers believe that the formation and erosion of these two enormous ranges may have fueled two of the biggest evolutionary boom times in our planet's history, the first appearance of complex cells roughly 2 billion years ago and the Cambrian explosion of marine life 541 million years ago.

The researchers examined zircons with low amounts of lutetium, a rare Earth element that only forms at the base of high mountains. The data revealed two "spikes" of extensive super-mountain formation in Earth's history, one lasting from about 2 billion to 1.8 billion years ago and the second lasting from 650 million to 500 million years ago. The earlier super-mountain, called Nuna Supermountain, had never been detected before now. The distribution of zircon crystals showed that both of these ancient super-mountains were enormous, likely spanning more than 5,000 miles long.

As these enormous mountains eroded, they would have dumped tremendous amounts of nutrients into the sea, including iron and phosphorus, speeding up energy production and supercharging evolution. The eroding mountains may have also released oxygen into the atmosphere, making Earth even more hospitable to complex life. The formation of the Nuna Supermountain coincides with the appearance of Earth's very first eukaryotic cells, while the Transgondwanan Supermountain would have been eroding just as another evolutionary boom unfolded in Earth's seas.

The study confirms that our planet's most productive biological booms occurred in the shadows of some truly colossal mountains. However, more research is needed to draw a conclusive connection between super-mountains and supercharged evolution on Earth.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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