WHAT IS A MOUNTAIN ?
A mountain is a steep-sided mass of rock that towers more than 300 meters above the ground around it. Anything less than 300 meters above the ground is called a hill.
Some mountains stand alone, but most are found in long chains called mountain ranges. The highest point of a mountain is called the peak or summit.
Mountains cover up to one-fifth of our Earth’s surface, and every continent has at least one large stunning mountain range, with some even under the world’s oceans.
The higher you climb up a mountain the colder it gets, because cool air rises. Most of the highest mountains around the world are constantly covered with snow and ice all year round, due to this cold air rising.
Despite the cold conditions, some animals, plants and people still live on these mountains.
A lot of people visit mountains not only to hike, climb or ski, but for the stunning scenery it beholds, such as lakes, cliffs and crags.
WHAT MAKES A MOUNTAIN ?
The Earth’s surface is a thin layer of rock called the crust. The crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet. It consists of different types of minerals and gigantic rocks, called igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.
These giant slabs of rock are called plates, which fit together like an enormous jigsaw puzzle. These plates can move around, very slowly. If they come into collision with each other, this powerful force below the Earth’s surface can push the crust upwards to form a mountain range.
This process takes millions of years for the mountains to form. There are three main types of mountains, and they are known as volcanic, block and fold mountains. They may all look the same, but they have all formed differently.
HOW THE DIFFERENT MOUNTAINS ARE FORMED
Underneath the Earth’s crust is a thick layer of hot, liquid rock called the mantle. So when a tectonic plate is pushed beneath another, some of this liquid rock is forced through the gap and explodes onto the surface. This is called a volcano.
Rivers of hot rock called lava, erupts from the volcano, shooting up high in the air. This process is called an eruption. This river of lava over time hardens to solid rock to form a volcanic mountain.
Many of the mountains peaks that stand alone on Earth are formed this way, and they are called volcanoes. Examples of famous volcanic mountains include, Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.
Plate movements under the Earth’s surface puts the gigantic rocks under enormous strain. Eventually the pressure gives, forcing a whole rock mass to break away from another.
The cracks at which the breaks takes place are called faults. On one side of this break, the rocks will rise upwards to form a flat-topped mountain, called a block mountain.
On the other side of the break, it slides downwards to form a flat-bottomed valley, called a rift valley. One example of this is the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. It consists of a flat-bottomed valley that runs between two block mountain formations.
Fold mountains are formed by the collision of two tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust.
The plates in the crust is like an enormous jigsaw puzzle. These plates can move around very slowly, and if they crash into each other, this powerful force below the Earth’s surface can push the crust upwards to form a mountain range.
It would be like having a flat sheet of paper on the table, and slowly with your two hands push both sides towards the center of the paper. The pressure makes the paper stand up in the middle.
Examples of famous fold mountains include, the Alps in Europe, the Rockies in North America and the Himalayan mountains in Asia.
SHORT FACTS ON MOUNTAINS
The next time you hear the word “CRUST”, don’t think about pizza or bread, as now you know about the crust you walk on everyday, the Earth’s crust and the role it plays in the creation of mountains.
The tallest mountain on Earth is Mauna Kea. This dormant volcano starts beneath the Pacific Ocean, and juts up on the island of Hawaii. It measures over 10,200 meters (33,600 feet) in height, from its base on the ocean floor.
The tallest mountain on Earth on dry land is Mount Everest in the Himalayas. It measures 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) in height.
The tallest mountain in the Solar System is Olympus Mons, on planet Mars. Standing at a height of nearly 22 km (13.6 miles or 72,000 feet), it’s almost three times higher than Mount Everest.
Olympus Mons is a major volcanic mountain.
The Himalayas in Asia, contain the tallest mountain range on the planet, with almost 100 of the world’s highest peaks.
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, is the highest mountain in Africa, at 5,895 meters (19,308 feet).
Many of the rocks found in mountains, such as marble, granite and limestone are useful to people. So mines and quarries have been constructed in certain mountains to reach these rocks.
Another important mountain industry is forestry. These forests that are often planted on the lower slopes of mountains, provide wood for building, for fuel and for making paper.
Mountains can be a very dangerous place for people, because of the harsh conditions. One moment, it may be warm and sunny, then storm clouds appear and a strong wind makes the air feel colder.
One has to be ready for all kinds of weather in the mountains. Climbers, hikers and skiers can easily get lost in mist or blizzards. Then you also have the added dangers of landslides and avalanches that have the power to carry away roads, trees and even towns.
About half of the world’s fresh water comes from mountains, while all of our major rivers are also fed from them.
As it takes millions of years for mountains to form, you’ll never see them grow. While some are getting higher, some are even getting a little bit smaller, worn away by the elements.
New mountains are forming all the time by the constant movement of the Earth’s crust.
Nowadays, many countries have established protected areas or national parks to protect mountains and their wildlife.
Orology is the scientific study of mountains.