According to a recent study by experts at The Australian National University, giant mountain ranges at least as high as the Himalayas and reaching up to 8,000 kilometers over whole supercontinents played a critical role in the development of early life on Earth (ANU).
The researchers used traces of zircon with low lutetium concentration — a combination of mineral and rare earth element exclusively found in the roots of high mountains where they grow under great pressure — to track the genesis of these supermountains throughout Earth’s history.
The most massive of these supermountains, according to the research, only developed twice in Earth’s history, first between 2,000 and 1,800 million years ago and again between 650 and 500 million years ago. During the development of supercontinents, both mountain ranges ascended.
The study’s lead author, ANU PhD candidate Ziyi Zhu, believes there are connections between these two supermountain occurrences and Earth’s two most crucial phases of development.
“These two supermountains are unique in today’s world. It’s not simply their size; image the 2,400-kilometer-long Himalayas repeated three or four times to get a sense of enormity “she said
“The Nuna Supermountain is the name given to the first example. It is said to be when eukaryotes, the creatures that subsequently gave birth to plants and animals, first appeared.
“The second, known as the Transgondwanan Supermountain, corresponds to the first giant creatures appearing 575 million years ago and the Cambrian explosion 45 million years later, when most animal groups emerged in the fossil record.”
Professor Jochen Brocks, a co-author, said: “What’s amazing is how well-preserved the whole history of mountain construction is. It depicts two enormous spikes, one associated with the advent of animals and the other with the formation of complicated large cells.”
When the mountains eroded, they released vital elements such as phosphorus and iron into the waters, supercharging biological cycles and accelerating development.
The supermountains may have also increased the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, which is required for sophisticated life to breathe.
“There was practically no oxygen in the early Earth’s atmosphere. The quantities of oxygen in the atmosphere are assumed to have risen in stages, two of which correlate with the supermountains “Ms. Zhu said.
“The increase in atmospheric oxygen caused by the erosion of the Transgondwanan Supermountain is the biggest in Earth’s history, and it was a precondition for the emergence of animals.”
There is no evidence of any additional supermountains growing between these two periods, which makes them all the more remarkable.
“The Boring Billion” refers to the period between 1,800 and 800 million years ago, when evolution was slow or non-existent, according to co-author Professor Ian Campbell.
“The lack of supermountains during that time period, which reduced the delivery of nutrients to the seas, is thought to have slowed evolution.
“By using markers, we can better comprehend the development of early, sophisticated life,” says the researcher.