Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Earth Plate Movement
Name: Justin
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: TN
Country: United States
Date: May 2006


Question:
If the Earth's plates are moving so slowly then how did Mt. Everest become so high?



Replies:
Justin,

Let's use the analogy of a car versus a bulldozer. The car can certainly go much faster, but it doesn't have the power to push, pull or move the amount of dirt that the bulldozer does. The Earth's plates are so massive that the momentum that they have is very high. Momentum is velocity time mass, or p = mV. Even though the velocity is a very very small number, the mass of a techtonic plate is so much higher that the momentum ends up being enormous! When two of these plates start pushing into each other, the dirt and rock that is in the interface can't hold up to that amount of pressure. So it ends up splitting and moving upward, thus creating mountains. Everest is so high because the two plates that are involve have been pushing the mountain up for so long and errosion has been minimal compared to the rate of growth of the mountain.

Matt Voss


It is a very slow process---taking millions of years. The Earth is so old that other mountain ranges were uplifted and eroded away again, leaving evidence in sedimentary rocks. In many more millions of years, Mt. Everest will be gone, as well, but for now, it just keeps getting taller (because of plate collision) faster than it is eroding away.

Patricia Rowe


Justin,

This is a problem most of us have with trying to imagine geologic time. Things happen so slowly, we don't really observe it (except when we compare data from measurements over long periods and doing precise measurements that reveal even minute changes), that it becomes hard to imagine something happening at all. However, you already understand that the movement of the plates can cause major changes in the shape of the surface. You already understand that this is a powerful force. I think you just need to imagine this as happening over a very long and continuous period to realize that mountains can form.

Greg



Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory