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Study: Climate has the power to move mountains, literally

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, November 5, 2015, 2:53 PM - A new study out of the University of Cincinnati suggests local and global changes in the climate have the ability to alter a mountain's internal tectonic plate shifts and revamp its topography.

"To understand ... how mountain structures evolve through geologic time is no quick task because we are talking millions of years," lead author Eva Enkelmann says in a statement.

For their study, Enkelmann and her team focused on the St. Elias mountain range, located along North America's Pacific coastal region.

The northern part of the mountain range is dry, but the southern portion sees high precipitation -- resulting in erosion and glacial development.

"The way a mountain range moves and behaves topographically can also change and create its local climate by redirecting wind and precipitation," The University of Cincinnati says in a statement.

RELATED: Mt. Everest shrinks after devastating earthquake

"The repercussions of these changes can in turn, accelerate the erosion and tectonic seismic activity of that mountain range."

Enkelmann and her team synthesized different data sets from over four to two million years ago. Their model suggests climate-induced erosion can directly influence the motion of rocks in a mountainous area which, over time, causes movement. 

"In 1899, there were two big earthquakes in a row, an 8.1 and an 8.2 magnitude [in the St. Elias Mountain Range]," Enkelmann says.

"These earthquakes resulted in up to 14 meters of co-seismic uplift on the shore, so the shoreline basically popped up 14 meters and it happened immediately. Our biggest concern today is the continued potential for earthquakes that can also result in tsunamis." 

Enkelmann plans to further study the mountain range to get a better idea of how it is shaped by the climate.

The complete study has been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Source: University of Cincinatti


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