Why aren't the mountains on Earth forever high?

There are two main factors that limit the growth of mountains, says Nadine McQuarrie, a professor in the department of geology and environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh.

The first limiting factor is gravity . Many mountains form due to movements in the Earth’s surface layer known as plate tectonics. The theory describes the Earth’s crust as being constantly mobile and “dynamic”, divided into large chunks that revolve around time. When two plates collide, the force of impact forces the material from their touching edges to move upwards. This is how the Himalayas in Asia, including Mount Everest, formed.

Why aren't the mountains on Earth forever high?
Mount Everest.

“The plates continued to push each other and the mountain continued to grow, until it became ‘too hard to do it against gravity. At some point, the mountain became too heavy, and the mass increased. its own prevents upward growth due to the brittleness of the two plates,” McQuarrie said.

But mountains can also form in other ways. Volcanoes, for example, like the Hawaiian Islands, form from molten rock that erupts through the planet’s crust and begins to pile up. But no matter how mountains are formed, they eventually become too heavy and succumb to gravity.

In other words, if the Earth had a lower gravity, the mountains would grow taller. That’s really what happened on Mars. Most likely due to Mars’ low gravity and high eruption rate, mountain lava flows continue to persist on Mars for longer than ever.

Moreover, the crust of Mars is not divided into plates like our planet. On Earth, as plates move around and over hotspots – areas of the mantle that shoot out hot plumes – new volcanoes form, and existing volcanoes are dormant. Activity in the Earth’s mantle distributes lava over a larger area, forming many volcanoes. On Mars, the crust doesn’t move, so lava piles up into a single, large volcano.

The second limiting factor for mountain growth on Earth is rivers . At first, rivers make the mountains look taller – they hit the edges of the mountains and erode the material, creating deep crevices.

As rivers erode soil and rock, their channels can become too steep. This can trigger landslides that carry soil away from the mountain and limit its growth.

Underwater mountains are similarly constrained by gravity and landslides but they can be much taller than mountains on land because the high density water supports them more against gravity than air, .

Everest is often referred to as Earth’s highest peak, but there are other contenders for the title of “highest mountain in the world.” Mauna Kea , a dormant volcano in Hawaii, is the tallest mountain in the world if measured from its base deep in the Pacific Ocean to its summit. It measures 10,210m, slightly taller than Everest. But when measured from sea level, Mount Everest is more than twice as tall as Mauna Kea and Mount Everest is the highest point in the world.