New theory on why some mountains form, crumble

Friday, July 16, 2010

MELBOURNE - Scientists in Australia have come up with a new theory about the movement of tectonic plates that can help explain why and when some mountains form and crumble.

Geophysicist Dr Wouter Schellart, of Monash University in Melbourne, and colleagues, studied the comings and goings of mountains at subduction zones.

Ever since plate tectonic theory was developed, scientists have been puzzled by mountain formation at subduction zones - where one tectonic plate slides under the other.

“They didn’t understand why there were mountains in the first place and why they went away, in subduction zones,” ABC Science quoted Schellart as saying.

The researchers have developed for the first time a theory that relates the size of subduction zones to the velocity of the tectonic plates at the plate boundary, which sheds light on mountain appearance and disappearance.

According to this theory the larger the subduction zone at the boundary between the plates, the faster the movement of the subducting plate and the slower the movement of the plate boundary.

Schellart says his theory is the first to explain the formation and collapse of an Andes-like mountain range that once existed down the west coast of North America.

Schellart says the theory could be useful in explaining the formation and disappearance of other mountains, such as a major mountain belt that once existed down Australia’s east coast, and even the Andes.

“The plate boundary in South America is currently very large so at the moment, you have formation of a large mountain belt,” Schellart said.

“If it start to shrink in size or starts to segment then the Andes could disappear as well,” he added.

The findings have been published in the journal Science. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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