Mountain formation

It's fascinating to think that the evolution of life on earth might have been affected by an increase in eroded minerals brought about by the creation of a huge mountain range:

New Scientist: Mega-mountains spurred explosive evolution

A continental crash that raised one of the biggest mountain chains in the Earth's history may be responsible for the explosive diversification of animals more than 500 million years ago.

Sediments washed from the mountains—dubbed the Transgondwanan Supermountain—added vital nutrients to the ocean, opening new evolutionary opportunities, says Rick Squire, now at Monash University in Clayton, Victoria, Australia.

The rapid proliferation of animals that occurred at that time is one of evolution's biggest enigmas. Life had remained simple and largely single-celled for nearly three billion years, until the multi-celled Ediacara fauna evolved, 575 million years ago.

Most major groups of animals evolved during a second radiation, called the Cambrian explosion, from 530 to 510 million years ago. The mystery of what suddenly kick-started animal evolution has been a topic of hot debate among experts.

Other people have suggested that changes in wind patterns brought about by the creation of the Himalaya, when the Indian sub-continent collided with Asia, could have given Africa a drier climate, making forests give way to savanna, and forcing our primate ancestors to come down from the trees.

Mountain formation was a subject of great fascination to Darwin. Indeed, during the Beagle voyage, he uncovered masses of evidence that South American was gradually rising. He also reasoned that a corresponding drop in the bedrock of the surrounding oceans suggested a mechanism for the creation of coral reefs. As usual, Darwin was right, but it wasn't until the 1960s that scientists devised theories of plate tectonics to explain the movements.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

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