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HIMALAYAS’ HISTORY THROUGH MICROSCOPY



  Apr 13, 2024

HIMALAYAS’ HISTORY THROUGH MICROSCOPY



Simple Explanation of Complex Geology

The Himalayas, known as Earth’s highest mountain range, carry a rich history spanning millions of years. Unlike what one might assume, understanding such massive formations doesn’t always require large-scale measurements like satellite imaging. In fact, scientists, delve into the microscopic world to study the vast mountain ranges through the tiny minerals found in metamorphic rocks—rocks that have transformed under extreme heat and pressure.

The Role of Tiny Crystals

These tiny minerals are akin to nature’s time capsules, preserving the geological history of the Himalayas within their structure. By examining these minerals under a microscope, scientists can decipher the age and chemical makeup of these crystals, offering clues about the processes that shaped the mountains.

How Radioactive Elements Help

Some of these minerals contain radioactive elements that decay into stable elements over time. By measuring the ratio of the original (parent) radioactive element to the new (daughter) stable element, scientists can determine the age of the mineral. This process is akin to using a clock to tell how much time has passed since the mineral formed.

A Closer Look at “Monzilla”

Scientists studied a particularly large crystal of monazite, humorously named “Monzilla,” from the Annapurna region of Nepal. By analyzing thorium—a radioactive element within the crystal—and mapping its concentration, they were able to visualize different stages of the mountain range’s formation. The varying colors within the crystal represent different thorium concentrations, correlating to different ages within the crystal itself.

What the Ages Tell Us

The core of Monzilla, with its high thorium concentration, dates back about 30 million years, while the outer rim, with lower thorium levels, formed around 10 million years ago. These distinct zones tell a story of the rocks being buried deep under the Earth’s surface, then later rising up again. This cycle, driven by the movement of tectonic plates, highlights the dynamic processes that build and reshape mountain ranges over tens of millions of years.

The Impact of Geological Studies

Understanding the intricate history stored within these minerals not only sheds light on the formation of the Himalayas but also on the forces that could cause catastrophic events like earthquakes. By mapping the movements of the Earth’s crust in this region, scientists aim to better understand the natural processes that have shaped our planet’s landscape over millions of years.

This microscopic approach to studying the Earth’s geology illustrates how even the smallest measurements can help unravel the mysteries of the largest mountain ranges, providing insights into the past and helping to predict future geological events.
 
 
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