If you want to conquer a high mountain peak in the distant future, you will have to travel to Somalia. This high mountain range stretched for 200 million years along the border between India and Somalia – which by that time had broken off from Africa and drifted eastward. Which to write Earth scientists Douwe van Hinsbergen and Thomas Schouten from the University of Utrecht soon in the scientific journal American Journal of Science.
To reach Mogadishu (the current capital of Somalia), you have to be on one of the mountaintops from that time on. To visit the present-day island of Mauritius as well. No flying or sailing is required for a mountain vacation: all the continents will merge into one large subcontinent called Novapangea.
“We usually look back in time,” says Van Hinsbergen, who and his group are trying to understand the mechanisms of mountain formation. But predicting the future is a useful thought experiment and has the advantage of allowing scientists to focus on key mechanisms. “When I revealed my ideas about the origin of the Alps at a conference, someone in the room always found some stone somewhere that didn’t quite match the details,” says Van Hinsbergen. He won’t be able to do so anytime soon in discourses about the mountains of Somalia. We do not care about exceptions and details. For us, it’s about the big picture.
The Earth’s outer shell is made up of loose plates (plates): giant rafts of stone, which float on the sticky mantle below, carrying the continents with them. When the plate breaks, liquid rock rises from the depths to solidify at the surface to the pure ocean floor. The beginning of such a new ocean is the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, a long chain of gorges and gorges thousands of kilometers long stretching from the Red Sea to Mozambique. Through this rift, Somalia will separate from Africa.
When the plates move towards each other, there is a lack of space. Then the plate with the heaviest edge sinks under the plate next to it, eventually stopping (if there’s a continent in the way, for example) with a slow-moving collision. Scratches from the diving board accumulate on the collapse zone that forms in the upper plate and voila, a new high mountain is born.
According to Van Hinsbergen and Schuten, the mountains of Somalia would rise in this way if the Indian plate under Somalia was submerged. Somalia and Madagascar then swell to form a plateau, and India and the smaller islands of the Indian Ocean end in the scraping zone.
“People tend to regard the current world as a final product,” says Van Hinsbergen. “But we are going through a completely arbitrary moment in geological history.” The way tectonic plates move over the Earth’s mantle will cause them to clump together (for geologists) for the foreseeable future, temporarily continuing their course as a single mass.
Geologists in Utrecht assume in their analyzes that the plate movements will continue as they are now. So, in their model, America is moving away from Europe until it lags behind China and Russia – but Australia and Antarctica, both advancing north, are quickly sandwiched between them.
“This is possible, but there are also other options,” says geophysicist Wouter Schellart of VU University Amsterdam, who was not involved in the Utrecht researchers’ research. For example, there are predictions in which North and South America will fight against China and Russia without the intervention of Australia, and scenarios in which America will move east to eventually join Africa.
Shellart himself participated five years ago in exploring the possibility of closing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and that the Indian Ocean was opening more and more to the north – like a cloud with so much tension. Eureka Earth scientists baptized the supercontinent Then it arises. “And in Eureka, in western India, there is no mountain range like Somalia, but there is an ocean,” Schellart says. Aurican climbers can head to the eastern and western edges of both North and South America.
There is no disagreement between Shellart and Van Hensbergen. Both assert that it is impossible to determine the most plausible scenario – and we will never find out. “It’s kind of a game,” says Van Hinsbergen. “We could call it geographic poetry,” Schellart says.
Van Hinsbergen: “Every choice you make has different consequences. When we put the area where the plates are submerged at the edge of India rather than in the middle of the ocean, no high mountains were created, but the whole of India was torn to shreds.
This does not change the fact that predicting the future is a useful activity, according to both worlds. “You have an infinite number of possibilities, but when you think about cause and effect, sometimes you come across things you never thought of before,” says Schelart.
Van Hinsbergen: “These types of games force you to systematically analyze how mountains or continents are formed. Ultimately, it will also improve the reconstruction of the way the Earth used to be.
The latter, in turn, helps to trace minerals or reconstruct the climate in the geological past. “In Winterswijk, you’ll find rocks and fossils that tell you it was very hot in the Netherlands in the Triassic period, 250 to 200 million years ago,” says Van Hinsbergen. Before you conclude that the climate was much warmer then than it is now, you should realize that the Netherlands was located near the desert in the Triassic period.
Meanwhile, Shellart wonders what will happen to the present-day Himalayas. Currently, the tectonic plate on which India is located is sinking northward under Asia. If this movement continues for a while, much of northern India will be wiped off the diving board and further piled up against the Himalayas, Schelart suspects — but doesn’t see that happening in Van Hinsbergen’s forecast.
“Our mountain formation added to A geographic reconstruction has already been done by other scientists, says van Hinsbergen. “In this regard, India will really stop moving from now on.” In fact, it will happen sometime in the next 10 million years, he predicts. “The part of India that is being demolished now is not going to be scraped so easily, so things will probably stop soon.”
In the future predicted by the inhabitants of Utrecht, the Himalayas will be exhausted to the size of the Ardennes in 200 million years. Less ambitious hikers can enjoy a nice vacation there.
The future is full of giant continents
The disintegration and reunification of continents is a cyclical process, with a supercontinent forming once every 500 million years or so. The latter was Pangea (literally: all-earth). This land mass split 200 million years ago into Gondwana and Laurasia, which in turn disintegrated on our continent. Potential future supercontinents include Auricia, Amasia, Novapangea (New Pangea) and Pangea Ultima (Final Pangea)—which, incidentally, was quickly renamed Pangea Proxima (Next Pangea) when it was realized that this name marked the end of plate tectonics.
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