Earth's Ancient Mountains Rose Up With Help From The Ocean's Tiniest Organisms

According to new research, many of Earth's mountains might never have been formed without an explosion in ocean life more than 2 billion years ago.

When tiny organisms in the shallows of the sea die and sink to the bottom, they can add organic carbon to the Earth's crust.

A case study of 20 mountain ranges around the world, including those in the Rockies, the Andes, the Svalbard, central Europe, Indonesia, and Japan, has shown that the timing of high carbon burial in the ocean is related to the generation of our planet's peaks.

The researchers write that the extra carbon allowed easier deformation of the crust and built mountain belts.

The changes seem to have begun in the middle of the Paleoproterozoic Era, when high concentrations of carbon from plankton andbacteria began to add to the ocean floor's shale. This made the rock brittle.

Most mountain ranges were formed within 100 million years. The same pattern is followed by mountain ranges that emerged recently.

The most organic-rich beds were the focus of the tectonic thrusting in the Himalayas around 50 million years ago.

The timing and location suggest that the carbon in the earth is still being shaped.

The key to the formation of mountains was life and it is shown that the Earth and its biosphere are closely linked.

The data for the study was collected from published literature.

Many studies have shown that the plates need to be weakened to create mountains, but how this happens is not clear.

The research suggests that marine life is a key part of the process.

The roots of the ancient mountains can be found in places like Harris, Tiree, and Gairloch, which are in the northwest of Scotland.

The surge in marine life 2 billion years ago most likely occurred in response to the Great Oxidation Event, when photosynthesizingbacteria began to produce vast amounts of oxidation, capable of supporting new forms of single-celled life.

The formation of mountains doesn't require much biological carbon. The edges of the plates need a small amount of biomass to slip under or over one another.

The carbon content in the mountain ranges is above 10 percent. Sometimes it reaches over 20 percent.

It seems that a surge in marine life billions of years ago set the stage for many of the mountain ranges we see today.

The authors say that the high carbon contents of the Paleoproterozoic made it possible for deformation to take place more quickly than before.

If the team is correct, it means that tiny single-celled organisms floating in the sea may have played a role in the creation of some of the largest geological structures on our planet.

The biggest things can grow from the smallest things.

The study was published in a journal.