Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the Himalayan range at 8,848 meters, but there are other ranges that extend across the continent. These mountain ranges contributed to the evolution of the planet because they were longer than the Himalayas. These super mountains have formed throughout Earth’s history.
In terms of size, they stretched up to 8,000 kilometers across and were nearly four times as long as the present-day Himalayan ranges (2,300 kilometers) and appeared twice in Earth’s history, the first between 2,000 and 1,800 million years ago and the second between 650 and 500 million years ago. The two major periods of Earth’s evolution are believed to be linked by researchers to these two instances of super mountains.
Researchers analyzed traces of zircon with low lutetium content -a combination of mineral and rare earth elements found in the roots of high mountains where they form under intense pressure – to identify these formations.
TALE OF SUPER MOUNTAINS
No other super mountains are known to have formed in between these two events, which makes their formation even more significant. Ziyi Zhu, a Ph.D. student at the Australian National University and the paper’s lead author, said, ‘These are unlike any mountains on Earth today. They are more than twice as long as the Himalayas, which are 2,400 kilometers long when repeated 3 or 4 times’.
The first super mountain is known as the Nuna Supermountain, which coincides with the probable appearance of eukaryotes, which are the precursors of plants and animals. Second, the Transgondwanan Supermountain evolved around 650 and 500 million years ago, coinciding with the first large animals and the Cambrian explosion 45 million years later when most animal groups appeared in the fossil record. Scientists believe there is a link between these two instances of super mountains and two of Earth’s most significant evolutionary periods.
CONTRIBUTION TO EARTH’S EVOLUTION
Researchers found that when the mountains eroded, they provided essential nutrients to the oceans, enhancing biological cycles and driving the evolution to a point of greater complexity. In addition to increasing oxygen levels in the atmosphere, the super mountains may also have fostered complex life.
Zhu says that the early Earth’s atmosphere had almost no oxygen. Atmospheric oxygen grew across the earth’s surface in two stages, two of which coincide with super mountains. Professor Jochen Brocks, the co-author of the study, says, ‘It’s amazing to see how clearly the record of mountain building through time is mapped out. It records two huge spikes: one associated with the emergence of animals, the other with the emergence of complex cells.’
Scientists attribute a decrease in evolution rate on the planet between 1,800 and 800 million years to the absence of these super mountains. Scientists call this period the Boring Billion. This could be linked to the absence of super mountains during that time, reducing the supply of nutrients to the oceans, they explained. The discovery could provide new insights into the evolution of our planet and life on it.