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Supermountains & The Evolution Boon…

The Himalayas cover a large part of Asia, as the range has some of the planet’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. Over 100 peaks, exceeding 7,200mt (or 23,600ft) in elevation lie in the Himalayas, while by contrast, the highest peak outside Asia (Aconcagua, in the Andes) is 6,961mt (or 22,838ft) tall. Meanwhile, researchers at the Australian National University have found evidence that there were peaks and ranges, bigger than the Himalayas, on Planet Earth. They have been termed Supermountains! According to the Australian researchers, Supermountains, nearly four times the length of the present-day Himalayan ranges and formed twice, had played an important role in the formation of the Earth.

An article on the Supermountains has recently been published in the Geological Research journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, according to which the range of the Supermountains was 8,000km, while the Himalayan range is just 2,300km long. Interestingly, the Supermountains were formed twice in Earth’s history: the first between 2,000 and 1,800 million years ago, and the second between 650 and 500 million years ago.

The Himalayan ranges as seen from space (Image: NASA)

The researchers have claimed that the formation of Supermountains (twice) was closely linked to the history of Earth’s evolution. Quite a few of rare minerals have been found at the base of these high Supermountains that usually get formed under intense pressure. That is why the researchers believe that different incidents, events and phenomena associated with the evolution of Planet Earth is associated with the rise of those Supermountains.

Ziyi Zhu – a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, and lead author of the paper – has stated that they have no evidence of other Supermountains forming at any stage between these two events. “There is nothing like these two Supermountains today. It’s not just their height – if you can imagine the 2,400km-long Himalayas repeated three or four times, you get an idea of the scale,” he stressed, adding that it makes the lost Supermountains even more significant.

The Mount Everest at its towering height of 8,848mt (Image: NASA)

Researchers have further claimed that the Supermountains had played an important role in the evolution of living creatures, too. The Supermountains used to provide oceans with essential substances, like phosphorus and iron, while eroding. It speeded up the biological cycle, apart from making the process of evolution a complicated one. Researchers have stressed that the level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere had increased due to the existence of Supermountains, making it possible for animals and plants to survive. According to researchers, complex lives needed oxygen to breathe. “The early Earth’s atmosphere contained almost no oxygen. Atmospheric oxygen levels are thought to have increased in a series of steps, two of which coincide with the supermountains,” said Zhu. For his part, Co-author Professor Jochen Brocks stressed: “What’s stunning is that the entire record of mountain building through time is so clear. It shows these two huge spikes: one is linked to the emergence of animals and the other to the emergence of complex big cells.

While the first Supermountain is being called Nuna Supermountain, the second one is being called Transgondwanan Supermountain. According to Zhu, the first Supermountain coincided with the appearance of eukaryotes, organisms that later gave birth to plants and animals. He further said that the Transgondwanan Supermountain coincided with the appearance of the first large animals and the Cambrian explosion 45 million years later, when most animal groups appeared in the fossil record.

Watch: Supermountains Created Life On Earth?

Meanwhile, researchers have attributed a decrease in evolution rate on the planet between 1,800 and 800 million years to the absence of these Supermountains, calling this period the Boring Billion. The article stated: “The slowing of evolution is attributed to the absence of Supermountains during that period, reducing the supply of nutrients to the oceans.” The new discovery has shed light on the evolution of Earth and living creatures.

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