MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: How did the Urals form?

Date: Mon Apr 13 23:17:47 1998
Posted By: Matthew Barchok, High School Senior
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 890435461.Es

Good observation. The Ural mountains are a very old mountain range. Many plate tectonics books only look back to the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea. Pangaea actually formed when several smaller continents collided. During this collision, Europe collided with Asia, forming the Urals. Then North America collided with Europe and Africa. This collision built the Appalacians. Later, North America separated from Pangaea again. The plate that Europe was on, however, fused with Asia. Now, Europe and Asia are on the same plate, and the Ural Mountains are only remains of the collision. Today, a similar process is occuring where India is colliding with Asia. India is on the same plate as Australia. Asia and India have collided and formed the Himalaya mountains. Now, the two plates are fusing. The Indo-Australian plate is in the process of breaking apart.

Incidentally, faults usually do not create large mountain ranges. Trenches, where one plate sinks beneath the other, create mountains like the Andes and the Rockies. Most of the plate that built the Rocky mountains has sunk beneath the North American Plate.

Midocean ridges or rifts create mountain ranges like the East Pacific Rise or the mountains of the East African Rift system.

Hot Spots create mountains like Hawaii or geothermal activity like that at Yellowstone National Park.

If you are interested in maps of plate tectonics, there are two excellent maps which could possibly be ordered from the National Geographic Society.

The first is "Earth's Dynamic Crust" (August 1985). The front of this map shows a map of the tectonic plates. The back shows the tectonic history of the North American west.

The second map, "The Earth's Fractured Surface" (April 1995), has a more detailed map of the plates on the front. It does leave out some details of the first, and is more difficult to use. Descriptions fewer and less detailed. The back of this map is an extremely detailed map of the plate tectonics of the west. Compared to the first map, the history is barely mentioned. It is a much better map of right now, though.

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