Mountains are the tallest landforms on earth’s surface. They form in a number of ways, all of which have to do with plate tectonics. Additionally, mountains have unique landscapes surrounding them. Some even contain precious minerals.
What is a Mountain?
This might seem like an odd question. You almost certainly know what a mountain is. Or, you’ve at least seen one.
But we can actually look at the question in a number of ways. If we’re studying topography, we could say that a mountain is a high point in any given landscape. Studying stratigraphy, we’d be more interested in the fact that mountains are areas of risen crust. This allows us to study layers of the earth that would have otherwise been too deep down.
A model of a landscape with mountains. Mountains are the tallest point in any landscape.
All of these things are true, of course. But we need a shorter definition. So, we’ll go back to near where we started: Mountains are the tallest landforms in a large area.
With that, we’ll move onto a more interesting question. Where did these massive rocks come from?
How are Mountains formed?
Mountain formation seems like a mysterious process, but it’s actually very simple. On land, it’s almost a no-brainer: When drifting continents collide, they form a huge mound of rock. This is a mountain.
The process isn’t as exciting as it might sound. That’s because it takes millions of years. But, there is also active mountain formation which is much more important. Here’s an example: Volcanoes are mountains which build themselves with hot magma. As they erupt, they form piles of igneous rock. Lots of these eventually make-up a mountain.
A volcanic mountain. I think I’ll just hike the normal ones!
To give one more example, mid-ocean ridges are also mountains. As a magma plume reaches the earth’s surface, it pushes the crust upwards. This is what forms mid-ocean ridges, some of the tallest landforms in the ocean. They are, basically, underwater mountains.
These spew out lava as well. But there are nicer things in mountains, too. Have you ever heard that there’s gold in them? Well, you’re about to find out if that’s true.
Mineral Deposits and Ore Veins
Mountains are known for having different types of ore within them. And they do, but only sometimes. Mountains aren’t just full of rare stuff. Yet, they often bring gems and metal ores closer to the earth’s surface (where we can get them).
In addition, mountains are subject to a great deal of weathering and erosion. So, the minerals inside become gradually exposed. This makes it so that miners don’t have to dig as far to get them.
Mountains which have been eroded. There might be ore right below the surface!
Yet, some mountains are too big (and beautiful) for us to mine.
Tallest Mountain in the World
There are a few, major mountains that are incredibly tall. People are actually conflicted over which is the tallest. This is an issue of where we start measuring from. In any event, the ones we’re going to go over are both truly amazing.
The highest point on earth is the peak of Mount Everest. It is 29,029 feet tall from sea level. Can you even imagine being up that high?
The peak of Mount Everest. This is literally the top of the world!
Now, Mount Everest is incredible. But, some people will argue that Mount Chimborazo is taller. It is a 20,500-foot volcano, and that seems shorter than Everest. Yet this number measures from the earth’s center, not the ocean. In that case, if you stood on Mt. Chimborazo, you would be closer to space than if you stood on Mt. Everest.
Mount Chimborazo. Its peak is the furthest point from the Earth’s core.
Of course, we can’t say that one mountain is actually taller than the other. It just depends on where we measure from. One thing is for sure, though. These mountains are enormous!
Throughout this article, we’ve talked a lot about how amazing mountains are. And because of their scale, they actually have a big impact on the land around them. In mountain ranges, the land in and around mountains, there’s a lot of unique wildlife.
This is a whole other subject to discuss. So, for now, I’ve left a few brief resources below discussing mountain biomes and landscapes. For starters, here’s a great movie on them.