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The Formation of Mountains

Although no absolute definition exists, to most geologists, the term “mountain” can be applied
to any topographic feature that rises more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. There
are four types of mountains: volcanic, domal, block-fault, and foldbelt.

Volcanic mountains, as we have seen, are associated with three geologic scenarios: divergent
plate margins, convergent plate margins, and hot spots. Mountains associated with divergent
plate margins range from the thousands of cinder cones associated with rift zones, to Mount
Kilimanjaro located in the East African Rift Valley, to the oceanic ridges, which are, in fact, the
most extensive mountain ranges on Earth, with a combined length of about 40,000 miles. The
cones of the oceanic volcanoes of the oceanic ridges are very broad based, with gently sloping
sides (shield volcanoes). The oceanic ridge in the Atlantic, for example, is roughly 2 miles high
from its base but 1,000–1,500 miles wide. Given that the Atlantic itself is only about 3,000 miles
across, the oceanic ridge occupies one-third to one-half of the ocean floor. Scenically, the most
impressive volcanic mountains are the island-arc and continental-arc volcanic mountain chains
associated with the convergent plate margins, as we have already discussed. An example of an
oceanic ridge rising over a hot spot above the ocean surface is Iceland. Part of the rift valley
associated with the oceanic ridge can be seen running through the center of Iceland.

Although the epeirogenic (vertical) forces that create them are perhaps the most difficult to
explain, domal mountains are the simplest both geologically and structurally of all the various
kinds of mountains. The vertical forces responsible for domal mountains originate beneath the
continental crust far from any plate boundary. The best explanation for epeirogenic forces is heat
that accumulates under the continental crust, causing the rocks to expand.

The subsequent decrease in density and increase in buoyancy causes the hot rocks to rise and the
overlying crust to dome. The resultant doming can be of either a local or regional type. An
example of regional doming is the uplift of the continental crust in the Colorado Plateau.

The rocks underlying the Basin and Range portion of the Colorado uplift (situated in Nevada) are
thinner than under the Colorado Plateau and, subsequently, weaker. Although the rocks of the
Colorado Plateau were little affected by the tensional forces that developed, the rocks of the
Basin and Range were broken by many parallel north-south-trending normal faults. The result of
the normal faulting was the creation of block-fault mountains throughout the region. Block
faulting occurs under two scenarios. In one case, the faults are parallel and dip in the same
direction, resulting in a rotation of the block between the faults and forming a mountain ridge
along one edge of the block and a down-thrown basin along the other. In the second scenario, the
parallel faults alternate in dip direction, resulting in an up-thrown mountain range bordered by
fault scarps on both sides, a relatively flat summit, and a down-thrown block forming the
adjoining basins.

Mount Rushmore, part of the Black Hills of South Dakota, formed during the
Archean period about 1.5 billion years ago.

An excellent example of local doming is the area on the South Dakota/ Wyoming border known
as the Black Hills. This is a north-south-trending dome about 50 miles wide and 100–150 miles
long that rises to just over 7,000 feet above sea level. We do not know if heat caused this
relatively small area to dome, but in the process of uplifting, the sedimentary rock that once
covered the area was stripped away, exposing a core of granitic rocks. During the Archean
period, 1.5 billion years ago, the rocks at the core of the Black Hills were formed through
hydrothermal metamorphism and were injected with gold. The Black Hills were sacred to the
Sioux Nation but were overrun by white prospectors in the late 1800s. All gold produced from
the Black Hills today is restricted to rocks that go back to the Archean age.

Most foldbelt mountains are located near the edges of continents, with the core (a complex
mixture of igneous and metamorphic rock) located seaward and the folded sedimentary basin
landward. Much of our current understanding of the origin of Foldbelt Mountains arose from
studies that began in the mid-1800s by an American paleontologist, James Hall, who was
investigating the section of sedimentary rocks associated with what is now called the Valley and
Ridge Province of the Appalachian Physiographic Provinces. Hall observed that while most
sedimentary rocks were of shallow marine origin, the sedimentary rocks associated with the
Appalachians were very thick.

Geologists were agreed that the marine sedimentary rocks formed from the sediments that
accumulated on the continental shelf with an average depth of only about 600 feet. Hall’s main
problem was to explain how tens of thousands of feet of sediments could accumulate in a part of
the ocean that was, at most, only 600 feet deep. Hall’s conclusion was that the surface of the
continental shelf continuously down-warped under the weight of the sediments, forming a giant
syncline. A contemporary, James Dana, called the structure a geosyncline.

With the advent of the theory of plate tectonics, we now know that a wedge of sediment called a
geocline begins to accumulate along the margin of newly formed continents and continues to
grow seaward for the lifetime of the ocean. The result is an ever-thickening sediment wedge,
while a shallow marine environment is maintained over the continental shelf. A continent-
continent collision compresses the geocline, folding it to ultimately become a range of Foldbelt
Mountains. All the great mountains of the world are Foldbelt Mountains— the Alps, the
Himalayas, and the Appalachians, for example. It is the force of a collision at the zone of
subduction that makes the folds that become Foldbelt Mountains.

1. How would the world be different if there were no mountains?
2. Why are most of Earth’s major mountain ranges located along the margins of continents?
3. What is the most logical source of energy for epeirogenic forces?
Choose one of the topics above, or you may choose your own topic after reading the passage.
The paragraph should consist of 15-20 sentences. A good paragraph should have: a topic
sentence, supporting sentences, and the concluding paragaraph (read the slides that I attach). Use
different kinds of sentences such simple sentences, compound sentences…..

Types of Mountains

How are mountains formed?

Mountains are formed by slow but gigantic movements of the earth's crust (the outer layer of the Earth).

The Earth's crust is made up of 6 huge slabs called plates, which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. When
two slabs of the earth's crust smash into each other the land can be pushed upwards, forming mountains.
Many of the greatest mountain ranges of the world have formed because of enormous collisions between

Did you know?

Earthquakes occur when two plates pushing past each other cause a fracture in the Earth’s

Mountains form in different ways

Sometimes the crust has folded and buckled, sometimes it breaks into huge blocks. In both cases, great
areas of land are lifted upwards to form mountains. Other mountains are formed by the earth's crust rising
into a dome, or by volcanic activity when the crust cracks open.

What different types of Mountains are there?

There are five basic kinds of mountains:

Fold Mountains (Folded Mountains)

Fault-block Mountains (Block Mountains)

Dome Mountains

Volcanic Mountains

Plateau Mountains

These different types of mountain names not only distinguish the physical characteristics of the
mountains, but also how they were formed.

Fold Mountains

Fold mountains are the most common type of mountain. The world’s largest mountain ranges are fold
mountains. These ranges were formed over millions of years.

Fold mountains are formed when two plates collide head on, and their edges crumbled, much the same
way as a piece of paper folds when pushed together.

The upward folds are known as anticlines, and the downward folds are synclines.

Examples of fold mountains include:

Himalayan Mountains in Asia

the Alps in Europe

the Andes in South America

the Rockies in North America

the Urals in Russia

The Himalayan Mountains were formed when India crashed into Asia and pushed up the tallest mountain
range on the continents.

In South America, the Andes Mountains were formed by the collision of the South American continental
plate and the oceanic
Pacific plate.

Did you know?

Two Tectonic Plates meet along the Southern Alps. This is called a fault line. The Southern
Alps are constantly changing because the Pacific Plate is being pushed down under the
Australian Plate and that causes the Alps to rise up.

Fault-block Mountains

These mountains form when faults or cracks in the earth's crust force some materials or blocks of rock up
and others down.

Instead of the earth folding over, the earth's crust fractures (pulls apart). It breaks up into blocks or
chunks. Sometimes these blocks of rock move up and down, as they move apart and blocks of rock end
up being stacked on one another.

Often fault-block mountains have a steep front side and a sloping back side.

Examples of fault-block mountains include:

the Sierra Nevada mountains in North America

the Harz Mountains in Germany

Dome Mountains

Dome mountains are the result of a great amount of melted rock (magma)
pushing its way up under the earth crust. Without actually erupting onto the
surface, the magma pushes up overlaying rock layers. At some point, the magma
cools and forms hardened rock. The uplifted area created by rising magma is
called a dome because of looking like the top half of a sphere (ball). The rock
layers over the hardened magma are warped upward to form the dome. But the
rock layers of the surrounding area remain flat.

As the dome is higher than its surroundings, erosion by wind and rain occurs from the top. This
results in a circular mountain range. Domes that have been worn away in places form many
separate peaks called Dome Mountains.

Volcanic Mountains

As the name suggests, volcanic mountains are formed by volcanoes.

Volcanic Mountains are formed when molten rock (magma) deep within the earth, erupts, and piles upon

the surface. Magna is called lava when it breaks through the earth's crust. When the ash and lava cools, it
builds a cone of rock. Rock and lava pile up, layer on top of layer.

Examples of volcanic mountains include:

Mount St. Helens in North America

Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines

Mount Kea and Mount Loa in Hawaii

Plateau Mountains (Erosion Mountains)

Plateau mountains are not formed by internal activity. Instead, these mountains are formed by erosion.
Plateaus are large flat areas that have been pushed above sea level by forces within the Earth, or have
been formed by layers of lava. The dictionary describes these as large areas of ‘high levels’ of flat land,
over 600 meters above
sea level.

Plateau mountains are often found near folded mountains. As years pass, streams and rivers erode valleys
through the plateau, leaving mountains standing between the valleys.

The mountains in New Zealand are examples of plateau mountains