The Rise and Fall of the Himalayas

The Himalayas are a mountain range in Asia that spans over five countries. The Indian term, him-alaja, is where the name Himalaya comes from. When translated into English, this Sanskrit word means ‘abode of the snows’ and is where the mountain ranges nicknames, ‘abode of the gods’ and the ‘Lama’s snow monastery’ derive from.

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According to Milienko Solaric, a majority of the mountains located in the Himalayas, such as K2 or Kangchenjunga, have peaks that extend over 8000 meters, which is approximately 26,246 feet. The tallest point of the mountain range, as well as in Asia and in the world, is Mount Everest (Solaric, 2011). As stated in a PBS article, Mount Everest stands at around 29,029 feet tall, which is above an average mountains height. Many people believe that Mount Everest is continuing to grow at a rate of four millimeters in height per year and three to six millimeters in width per year (The Height of Mount Everest). However, new evidence suggests that the Himalayas will start to deteriorate because of glaciers and cirques (Stallard, 2014).

Plates are pieces of the Earth’s crust. The process of these plates moving around one another is called plate tectonics. There are three plate boundaries, called divergent, transform, or convergent, where a lot of tectonic activity takes place. Divergent boundaries move away from one another, transform boundaries move past one another, and convergent boundaries move towards one another (Explore). Mountains are made from convergent plate boundaries. More specifically, they are made of continent-continent convergent plate boundaries, which is when two continental plates collide together and create uplift (King). The Himalayan mountain range was also formed this way. According to the Geological Society, the formation of the Himalayas dates all the way back to 200 million years ago with the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea. During the break up, India began to drift towards Asia at a rate of nine to sixteen centimeters per year (Geological Society). The Eurasian and Indian plates eventually collided, due to the fact that the Tethys Ocean floor was not subducting underneath Asia like it should have been. Instead, the not fully subducted Tethys Ocean floor created an accretionary wedge from the Indian margin onto Eurasia, which created the Himalayas (Geological Society).

The Himalayan mountain range is still growing approximately one centimeter per year. This is due to the fact that India is continuing to move into Asia. However, along with this constant state of growth is a constant state of decay (Geological Society). According to an article written by Brain Stallard, one of the factors that will limit the growth of the Himalayas are glaciers (Stallard, 2014). Since the Earth is 71 percent water, it seems almost inevitable that in extremely cold climates, glaciers will form around and on mountains (Williams, 2014). The Himalayas are no exception to this, as according to PBS there are an estimated 15,000 glaciers spread across the 1,500 mile mountain range. When glaciers form on mountains, they carve hollow holes called cirques. Cirques eventually limit how high mountains can grow before collapsing, regardless of volcanic or plate tectonic activity. Cirques are like a glacier’s secret weapon. They help to weaken mountains before they begin to fall over. Gradually, glaciers hollow out or cut through the floors and walls of a cirque. This action steepens the mountain’s slope and puts them at a higher risk to erosion than before, ultimately shirking them in the process (Stallard, 2014).

Despite the fact that the formation of glaciers will limit mountain growth in low temperature regions, there are many other reasons why the Himalayas, and mountains in general, may begin to shrink after a period of time. One of these factors has to do with the weight that large mountains place on Earth’s plates. The more weight that a mountain adds to a plate above Earth’s surface, the lower the mountain will sink. If the mountain descends far enough into the earth’s interior, it will eventually begin to melt. Another factor that plays into the dwindling of a mountain range is through the same way they are made, plate tectonics. As previously mentioned, the collision of plate tectonics form mountains. However, plate tectonics also weakens the mountains structure and support system. This is due to an acceding amount of pressure that is put on plates after their initial collision, causing rocks to fracture and crack. The erosion of the mountain is then made easier due to these cracks (YouTube Video).

The biggest mountain in our solar system is located on Mars. The mountain, named Olympus Mons, is three times the height of Mount Everest (Stallard, 2014). Many people wonder if the mountains located on Earth will ever reach these vast heights. Due to how fast mountain ranges grow, it seems logical that mountains on Earth will eventually become this tall. However, no one really knows for sure how tall the Himalayas will get. As the mountain range keeps on growing at a fast rate, factors like plate tectonics, weathering, and erosion shrink them at the same time (YouTube Video). The only thing people can determine about the maximum height of a mountain is that it will not reach over ten kilometers. Scientists figured out this measurement by using basic physics. It all has to do with the amount of the potential energy mountains release when they start to sink due to the mass of the mountain. Physicists then take the total mass of the mountain, along with its height, and figure out their molecular relationship.

The Himalayan mountain range will always remain at a consistent height due to the varying factors that keep them growing and shrinking consistently. They will also never increase over 10 kilometers tall due to these factors as well. However, since the Earth, along with its environment, are changing constantly, over time, the Himalayan mountain range may become as tall as other mountains in our solar system.

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