Mountain range

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The Namcha Barwa Himal, east part of the Himalayas as seen from space by Apollo 9 Apollo 9 image of the Namcha Barwa Himal range, AS09-23-3511.jpg
The Namcha Barwa Himal, east part of the Himalayas as seen from space by Apollo 9

A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains or hills arranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structure, and alignment that have arisen from the same cause, usually an orogeny. [1] Mountain ranges are formed by a variety of geological processes, but most of the significant ones on Earth are the result of plate tectonics. [2] Mountain ranges are also found on many planetary mass objects in the Solar System and are likely a feature of most terrestrial planets.


Mountain ranges are usually segmented by highlands or mountain passes and valleys. Individual mountains within the same mountain range do not necessarily have the same geologic structure or petrology. They may be a mix of different orogenic expressions and terranes, for example thrust sheets, uplifted blocks, fold mountains, and volcanic landforms resulting in a variety of rock types.

Major ranges

The Ocean Ridge, the world's longest mountain range (chain) World Distribution of Mid-Oceanic Ridges.gif
The Ocean Ridge, the world's longest mountain range (chain)

Most geologically young mountain ranges on the Earth's land surface are associated with either the Pacific Ring of Fire or the Alpide belt. The Pacific Ring of Fire includes the Andes of South America, extends through the North American Cordillera, the Aleutian Range, on through Kamchatka Peninsula, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, to New Zealand. [3] The Andes is 7,000 kilometres (4,350 mi) long and is often considered the world's longest mountain system. [4]

The Alpide belt stretches 15,000 km across southern Eurasia, from Java in Maritime Southeast Asia to the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe, including the ranges of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Alborz, Caucasus, and the Alps. [5] The Himalayas contain the highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest, which is 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) high. [6]

Mountain ranges outside these two systems include the Arctic Cordillera, Appalachians, Great Dividing Range, East Siberians, Altais, Scandinavians, Qinling, Western Ghats, Vindhyas, Byrrangas, and the Annamite Range. If the definition of a mountain range is stretched to include underwater mountains, then the Ocean Ridge forms the longest continuous mountain system on Earth, with a length of 65,000 kilometres (40,400 mi). [7]


The Andes, the longest mountain range on the surface of the Earth, have a dramatic impact on the climate of South America Andes 70.30345W 42.99203S.jpg
The Andes, the longest mountain range on the surface of the Earth, have a dramatic impact on the climate of South America

The position of mountain ranges influences climate, such as rain or snow. [8] When air masses move up and over mountains, the air cools, producing orographic precipitation (rain or snow). As the air descends on the leeward side, it warms again (following the adiabatic lapse rate) and is drier, having been stripped of much of its moisture. Often, a rain shadow will affect the leeward side of a range. [9] As a consequence, large mountain ranges, such as the Andes, compartmentalize continents into distinct climate regions.


Mountain ranges are constantly subjected to erosional forces which work to tear them down. [10] The basins adjacent to an eroding mountain range are then filled with sediments that are buried and turned into sedimentary rock. Erosion is at work while the mountains are being uplifted until the mountains are reduced to low hills and plains.

The early Cenozoic uplift of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado provides an example. As the uplift was occurring some 10,000 feet (3,000 m) of mostly Mesozoic sedimentary strata were removed by erosion over the core of the mountain range and spread as sand and clays across the Great Plains to the east. [11] This mass of rock was removed as the range was actively undergoing uplift. The removal of such a mass from the core of the range most likely caused further uplift as the region adjusted isostatically in response to the removed weight.

Rivers are traditionally believed to be the principal cause of mountain range erosion, by cutting into bedrock and transporting sediment. Computer simulation has shown that as mountain belts change from tectonically active to inactive, the rate of erosion drops because there are fewer abrasive particles in the water and fewer landslides. [12]

Extraterrestrial "Montes"

Montes Apenninus on the Moon was formed by an impact event. Montes Apenninus AS15-M-1423.jpg
Montes Apenninus on the Moon was formed by an impact event.

Mountains on other planets and natural satellites of the Solar System, including the Moon, are often isolated and formed mainly by processes such as impacts, though there are examples of mountain ranges (or "Montes") somewhat similar to those on Earth. Saturn's moon Titan [13] and Pluto, [14] in particular, exhibit large mountain ranges in chains composed mainly of ices rather than rock. Examples include the Mithrim Montes and Doom Mons on Titan, and Tenzing Montes and Hillary Montes on Pluto. Some terrestrial planets other than Earth also exhibit rocky mountain ranges, such as Maxwell Montes on Venus taller than any on Earth [15] and Tartarus Montes on Mars. [16] Jupiter's moon Io has mountain ranges formed from tectonic processes including the Boösaule, Dorian, Hi'iaka and Euboea Montes'. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Orogeny</span> The formation of mountain ranges

Orogeny is a mountain-building process that takes place at a convergent plate margin when plate motion compresses the margin. An orogenic belt or orogen develops as the compressed plate crumples and is uplifted to form one or more mountain ranges. This involves a series of geological processes collectively called orogenesis. These include both structural deformation of existing continental crust and the creation of new continental crust through volcanism. Magma rising in the orogen carries less dense material upwards while leaving more dense material behind, resulting in compositional differentiation of Earth's lithosphere. A synorogenic process or event is one that occurs during an orogeny.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geology of the Alps</span> The formation and structure of the European Alps

The Alps form part of a Cenozoic orogenic belt of mountain chains, called the Alpide belt, that stretches through southern Europe and Asia from the Atlantic all the way to the Himalayas. This belt of mountain chains was formed during the Alpine orogeny. A gap in these mountain chains in central Europe separates the Alps from the Carpathians to the east. Orogeny took place continuously and tectonic subsidence has produced the gaps in between.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rift valley</span> Linear lowland created by a tectonic rift or fault

A rift valley is a linear shaped lowland between several highlands or mountain ranges produced by the action of a geologic rift. Rifts are formed as a result of the pulling apart of the lithosphere due to extensional tectonics. The linear depression may subsequently be further deepened by the forces of erosion. More generally the valley is likely to be filled with sedimentary deposits derived from the rift flanks and the surrounding areas. In many cases rift lakes are formed. One of the best known examples of this process is the East African Rift. On Earth, rifts can occur at all elevations, from the sea floor to plateaus and mountain ranges in continental crust or in oceanic crust. They are often associated with a number of adjoining subsidiary or co-extensive valleys, which are typically considered part of the principal rift valley geologically.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine orogeny</span> Formation of the Alpine mountain ranges of Europe, the Middle East and northwest Africa

The Alpine orogeny or Alpide orogeny is an orogenic phase in the Late Mesozoic (Eoalpine) and the current Cenozoic that has formed the mountain ranges of the Alpide belt.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geology of the Himalayas</span> Origins and structure of the mountain range

The geology of the Himalayas is a record of the most dramatic and visible creations of the immense mountain range formed by plate tectonic forces and sculpted by weathering and erosion. The Himalayas, which stretch over 2400 km between the Namcha Barwa syntaxis at the eastern end of the mountain range and the Nanga Parbat syntaxis at the western end, are the result of an ongoing orogeny — the collision of the continental crust of two tectonic plates, namely, the Indian Plate thrusting into the Eurasian Plate. The Himalaya-Tibet region supplies fresh water for more than one-fifth of the world population, and accounts for a quarter of the global sedimentary budget. Topographically, the belt has many superlatives: the highest rate of uplift, the highest relief, among the highest erosion rates at 2–12 mm/yr, the source of some of the greatest rivers and the highest concentration of glaciers outside of the polar regions. This last feature earned the Himalaya its name, originating from the Sanskrit for "the abode of the snow".

The Lewis Overthrust is a geologic thrust fault structure of the Rocky Mountains found within the bordering national parks of Glacier in Montana, United States and Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. The structure was created due to the collision of tectonic plates about 59-75 million years ago that drove a several mile thick wedge of Precambrian rock 50 mi (80 km) eastwards, causing it to overlie softer Cretaceous age rock that is 1300 to 1400 million years younger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Foreland basin</span> Structural basin that develops adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt

A foreland basin is a structural basin that develops adjacent and parallel to a mountain belt. Foreland basins form because the immense mass created by crustal thickening associated with the evolution of a mountain belt causes the lithosphere to bend, by a process known as lithospheric flexure. The width and depth of the foreland basin is determined by the flexural rigidity of the underlying lithosphere, and the characteristics of the mountain belt. The foreland basin receives sediment that is eroded off the adjacent mountain belt, filling with thick sedimentary successions that thin away from the mountain belt. Foreland basins represent an endmember basin type, the other being rift basins. Space for sediments is provided by loading and downflexure to form foreland basins, in contrast to rift basins, where accommodation space is generated by lithospheric extension.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chaos terrain</span> Distinctive area of broken or jumbled terrain

In astrogeology, chaos terrain, or chaotic terrain, is a planetary surface area where features such as ridges, cracks, and plains appear jumbled and enmeshed with one another. Chaos terrain is a notable feature of the planets Mars and Mercury, Jupiter's moon Europa, and the dwarf planet Pluto. In scientific nomenclature, "chaos" is used as a component of proper nouns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erosion and tectonics</span> Interactions between erosion and tectonics and their implications

The interaction between erosion and tectonics has been a topic of debate since the early 1990s. While the tectonic effects on surface processes such as erosion have long been recognized, the opposite has only recently been addressed. The primary questions surrounding this topic are what types of interactions exist between erosion and tectonics and what are the implications of these interactions. While this is still a matter of debate, one thing is clear, Earth's landscape is a product of two factors: tectonics, which can create topography and maintain relief through surface and rock uplift, and climate, which mediates the erosional processes that wear away upland areas over time. The interaction of these processes can form, modify, or destroy geomorphic features on Earth's surface.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nazca Ridge</span> Submarine ridge off the coast of Peru

The Nazca Ridge is a submarine ridge, located on the Nazca Plate off the west coast of South America. This plate and ridge are currently subducting under the South American Plate at a convergent boundary known as the Peru-Chile Trench at approximately 7.7 cm (3.0 in) per year. The Nazca Ridge began subducting obliquely to the collision margin at 11°S, approximately 11.2 Ma, and the current subduction location is 15°S. The ridge is composed of abnormally thick basaltic ocean crust, averaging 18 ±3 km thick. This crust is buoyant, resulting in flat slab subduction under Peru. This flat slab subduction has been associated with the uplift of Pisco Basin and the cessation of Andes volcanism and the uplift of the Fitzcarrald Arch on the South American continent approximately 4 Ma.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andean orogeny</span> Ongoing mountain-forming process in South America

The Andean orogeny is an ongoing process of orogeny that began in the Early Jurassic and is responsible for the rise of the Andes mountains. The orogeny is driven by a reactivation of a long-lived subduction system along the western margin of South America. On a continental scale the Cretaceous and Oligocene were periods of re-arrangements in the orogeny. The details of the orogeny vary depending on the segment and the geological period considered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geology of Bolivia</span>

The geology of Bolivia comprises a variety of different lithologies as well as tectonic and sedimentary environments. On a synoptic scale, geological units coincide with topographical units. The country is divided into a mountainous western area affected by the subduction processes in the Pacific and an eastern lowlands of stable platforms and shields. The Bolivian Andes is divided into three main ranges; these are from west to east: the Cordillera Occidental that makes up the border to Chile and host several active volcanoes and geothermal areas, Cordillera Central once extensively mined for silver and tin and the relatively low Cordillera Oriental that rather than being a range by its own is the eastern continuation of the Central Cordillera as a fold and thrust belt. Between the Occidental and Central Cordillera the approximately 3,750-meter-high Altiplano high plateau extends. This basin hosts several freshwater lakes, including Lake Titicaca as well as salt-covered dry lakes that bring testimony of past climate changes and lake cycles. The eastern lowlands and sub-Andean zone in Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca, and Tarija Departments was once an old Paleozoic sedimentary basin that hosts valuable hydrocarbon reserves. Further east close to the border with Brazil lies the Guaporé Shield, made up of stable Precambrian crystalline rock.

A river anticline is a geologic structure that is formed by the focused uplift of rock caused by high erosion rates from large rivers relative to the surrounding areas. An anticline is a fold that is concave down, whose limbs are dipping away from its axis, and whose oldest units are in the middle of the fold. These features form in a number of structural settings. In the case of river anticlines, they form due to high erosion rates, usually in orogenic settings. In a mountain building setting, like that of the Himalaya or the Andes, erosion rates are high and the river anticline's fold axis will trend parallel to a major river. When river anticlines form, they have a zone of uplift between 50-80 kilometers wide along the rivers that form them.

In geology, the term exhumation refers to the process by which a parcel of rock, approaches Earth's surface.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">River incision</span>

River incision is the narrow erosion caused by a river or stream that is far from its base level. River incision is common after tectonic uplift of the landscape. Incision by multiple rivers result in a dissected landscape, for example a dissected plateau. River incision is the natural process by which a river cuts downward into its bed, deepening the active channel. Though it is a natural process, it can be accelerated rapidly by human factors including land use changes such as timber harvest, mining, agriculture, and road and dam construction. The rate of incision is a function of basal shear-stress. Shear stress is increased by factors such as sediment in the water, which increase its density. Shear stress is proportional to water mass, gravity, and WSS:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Orogenic collapse</span> Thinning and spreading of a thickened crust

In geology, orogenic collapse is the thinning and lateral spread of thickened crust. It is a broad term referring to processes which distribute material from regions of high gravitational potential energy to regions of low gravitational potential energy. Orogenic collapse can begin at any point during an orogeny due to overthickening of the crust. Post-orogenic collapse and post-orogenic extension refer to processes which take place once tectonic forces have been released, and represent a key phase of the Wilson Cycle, between continental collision and rifting.

Heat-pipe tectonics is a cooling mode of terrestrial planets and moons in which the main heat transport mechanism in the planet is volcanism through the outer hard shell, also called the lithosphere. Heat-pipe tectonics initiates when volcanism becomes the dominant surface heat transfer process. Melted rocks and other more volatile planetary materials are transferred from the mantle to surface via localised vents. Melts cool down and solidify forming layers of cool volcanic materials. Newly erupted materials deposit on top of and bury older layers. The accumulation of volcanic layers on the shell and the corresponding evacuation of materials at depth cause the downward transfer of superficial materials such that the shell materials continuously descend toward the planet's interior.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earth system interactions across mountain belts</span>

Earth system interactions across mountain belts are interactions between processes occurring in the different systems or "spheres" of the Earth, as these influence and respond to each other through time. Earth system interactions involve processes occurring at the atomic to planetary scale which create linear and non-linear feedback(s) involving multiple Earth systems. This complexity makes modelling Earth system interactions difficult because it can be unclear how processes of different scales within the Earth interact to produce larger scale processes which collectively represent the dynamics of the Earth as an intricate interactive adaptive system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oblique subduction</span> Tectonic process

Oblique subduction is a form of subduction for which the convergence direction differs from 90° to the plate boundary. Most convergent boundaries involve oblique subduction, particularly in the Ring of Fire including the Ryukyu, Aleutian, Central America and Chile subduction zones. In general, the obliquity angle is between 15° and 30°. Subduction zones with high obliquity angles include Sunda trench and Ryukyu arc.


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