P. Edronkin

How Many Everests Did Exist?



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All along the geological history of our planet, some mountain has been the highest one, but it wasn't always Mount Everest. Time has quite another value when the geological history of a planet is considered: our 70 to 80 years life - on average - are minuscule when compared with breathtaking time lapses spanning over aeons, and our pretty modest perspective on time scales leaves us with a very narrow comprehension of what really happens around us, in our world.

In that sense, we are somewhat visually and conceptually impaired, like individuals only capable of seeing just one frame or two in a whole movie. Imagine what would be to try to comprehend the story of the "Star Wars" saga based on just two frames of just one of the six movies…It is indeed intriguing to think about the possibilities, even without living the logical constraints imposed by the scientific method, and today we know about ancient continents and lands such as Pangaea, Laurasia and Gondwana, which existed hundreds of millions of years ago. Many of the morphological characteristics of these ancient lands have disappeared or evolved into different things yet, thanks to sciences such as geology and palaeontology we have been able to know a little more about the past, like finding more frames in yet more movies.

We know little about these ancient continents of course, and it may be next to impossible to learn about the details: however, since I am a mountain climber one of the next-to-impossible-to-know things that always interested me is the story of the highest mountains of the world across the ages: since we know a little about geomorphology and geological processes, it would be perhaps possible to make valid inferences in this regard. We know that Mount Everest is the top of the world: we also know that it is growing because the Indian subcontinent and its tectonic processes are pushing deeper into Asia and thus increasing the size of the Himalayas, like a giant caterpillar moving some dirt around. And we also know that for geophysical reasons, no mountain on Earth could possibly be higher than around 12.000 metres.

Thus, this means that there is a very good chance that at some point during the history of our planet, in the past or in the future, there will be or was a mountain higher than Mount Everest: that perhaps happened or will happen in the Himalayan range, or somewhere else. Indeed, until there is a paradigm shift in science - such as the development of time travel capability, or something like that - we may never know the details of such mountains but this sort of palaeomountaineering might have some scientific value even as it is in the present.Indeed: mountains like the Everest are not only colossal - just consider that the Everest masiff is about 90 km long - but due to their size, they have quite a significant influence in the climate of surrounding areas: Tibet and China are quite different from Nepal, and the existence of the Himalayas is one of the reasons.

So, by knowing about these differences and comparing to what could have happened at other stages during Earth's evolution, we might just get to understand better how our climate works, plus learning about the possible shapes and characteristics of past or future big mountains.

Hmm... I am beginning to imagine huge mountains during the Carboniferous, 360 million years ago, partially covered with ancient conifers and giant, tree-like ferns; a great idea ofr a documentary film, I guess.




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