Welcome to BYJU’S ‘What If?’ where you, the students, get to ask us your questions. It can be anything in the whole wide world but there’s just one condition: it should start with ‘What if?’ We’ll pick the most intriguing questions and feature them along with an illustrated explanation on The Learning Tree blog.
To ask your question, fill-up the form here:
The latest question of the What If? series comes to us from Anishka, from Bangalore, who asks:
What If Mountains Just Stopped Existing?
Mountains are one of the most magnificent natural formations on Earth. They have been an inspiration to many poets, explorers, adventurers and thrill-seekers. When you ask a child to draw a scenic location, two mountains will inevitably feature in the final result!
Mountains feature prominently in our language too. To ‘move mountains’ is a commonly-used phrase that means ‘to perform a great and challenging task’. In another case, when the urge for a vacation is too great, one may say that ‘the mountains are calling.’
So what would happen if all the mountains on Earth just stopped existing?
One thing is for sure – if the mountains vanish, that also means goodbye to skiing, snowboarding, paragliding and most of the other sports that feature in the Winter Olympic Games every four years. No more snowball fights or ‘hill station getaways’ too (for what are hills if not for tiny mountains)!
But there are much bigger consequences to consider here. Mountains are formed by the movement of tectonic plates. These are like giant pieces of a jigsaw that cover the entire crust – the uppermost part of the Earth’s surface. The movement of these tectonic plates usually happens slowly over thousands of years. When these plates collide with each other the crust rises up as mountains at the point of contact. How do earthquakes happen? One of the ways by which earthquake occurs is by the sudden movements and contact between tectonic plates.
Mountains are obviously really heavy! That huge amount of mass is what presses down onto the layer below the Earth’s crust, called the mantle. The mantle is made up of really hot molten lava called magma. When there are volcanic eruptions, what is essentially happening is that the magma from the mantle is rising up through the crust and spilling onto the surface. If the mountains were to suddenly vanish, all that mass holding back the pressure of the mantle would be gone and there would be a continuous barrage of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes all over the world.
All this would obviously render the entire planet completely uninhabitable. Mountains, like rainforests and deserts, have an important role in maintaining the fragile ecological balance of the planet. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Nature, without mountains, Earth would be as cold and uninhabitable as Mars.
The study also talks about the role of young fold mountains like the Himalayas and the Andes in pushing essential minerals from the mantle to the upper surface. Calcium is a part of these minerals, which reacts with carbon dioxide to form limestone. This limestone is eroded by wind, rain and snow and reaches the oceans. This process, the researchers say, was essential in sucking out all the excess carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere several million years ago, without which we would never have a suitable atmosphere for life to thrive.
The interesting thing is that there was a time when mountains nearly disappeared. Around 0.8 billion to 1 billion years ago, the Earth’s mountains stopped growing. Meanwhile, erosion turned these once-mighty formations into tiny bumps. According to a recent study published in the journal Science, this period had a significant impact on the evolution of simple, multi-cellular organisms in the oceans. In fact, the development of life was so incredibly slow during this time that geologists call it “the boring billion” years! Without mountains, we could very well be cast into the second boring billion era of Earth’s existence!
All said and done, the disappearance of mountains would simply be catastrophic for not just humans, but all life on the planet. Of course, this is all speculative and there’s no way for the mountains to suddenly vanish one fine day. But that doesn’t stop us from wondering, does it?
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Suraj is a self-proclaimed audiophile and a jack-of-all-trades writer with a diverse set of interests. An amateur quizzer on the side, he claims that the first object he fell in love with was a book on flags at age 3. His favourite punctuation mark is the Oxford Comma, which coincidentally happens to be one of his favourite songs too!
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