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Physics - Building Mountains

Collisions between the great plates of the Earth’s crust do more than trigger earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; they build mountains.

Earth’s Tallest Peaks

About 40 million years ago India was an island slowly colliding with Asia. Between them lay a sea floor of layered rocks. As India and Asia collided, the sea floor was squashed and forced into huge humps called fold mountains.

These are the Himalayas- the highest mountain range on Earth. In much the same way, the European Alps were pushed upward as Italy nosed into southern Europe. The Alps and Himalayas belong to a great system of fold mountains stretching from Morocco to China.

The Rockies and Andes.

The rocky mountains of western North America and the Andes of western South America from another great mountain system.

The Andes and Rockies have risen where the western edge of the Americas rides over the eastern edge of crustal plates under the Pacific Ocean. As the oceanic plates are forced down into the hot mantle, their rocks melt, but these rocks are lighter than the rocks of the mantle. So they rise back up through the crustal plates that carry North and South America. This is why there are so many volcanoes in western North and South America. Most of their highest mountains are volcanic.

Block Mountains

When crustal plates jostle one another great cracks, called faults, appear in the Earth’s crust. Sometimes a block of land is squeezed up between two faults and forms a flat-topped mountain, called a block mountain. Europe’s Vosges and Black Forest are block mountains.

Sometimes a narrow block of land sinks between two faults. The sunken land is a rift valley. The longest one runs through Africa.

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