Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Meanwhile, 70 Million Years Ago...

Last night after watching The History Channel's new series How the Earth was Made, I was completely inspired, educated and totally marveled by the immense power this planet’s geological forces carry. The episode highlighted Mount Everest, but more vastly the Himalayan Mountain range and how this super-sized chain of sky-scraping peaks, stretching across six Asian countries, came to life.

There are so many interesting facts about these mountains, starting with how they got to be so damn high, and they are still growing! Here’s some background…

We’ve all heard of
Pangaea, right? OK, well about 70 million years ago a series of historic seismic and literally earth-shattering events caused the one-time continental plate to break apart. When this occurred, the north-moving Indo-Australian tectonic plate fiercely collided with the Eurasian plate.

What does this mean? Pretty much India crashed into China causing a gargantuan uplift of soil that forced the earth’s surface to vertically bulge resulting in a chain of mountains we now call the Himalayas. And still today as the Indo-Australian plate slides beneath the earth’s surface along the Eurasian plate, these mountains continue to rise, being pushed up ever so slightly each year.

Now how does this tie into weather? Aside from creating their own weather (fierce winds, violent blizzards), the Himalayas contain the greatest area of glaciers and permafrost outside the North and South poles. But more important and significant is the profound effect these mountains have on their regional climate. Because of their immense height they are capable of blocking and completely re-directing typical weather patterns. They prevent frigid, dry arctic winds from blowing into South Asia, namely India, which have allowed average temperatures to rise more rapidly there than any other global biome. The mountains also form a barrier for the monsoon winds, keeping them from traveling northwards, and causing heavy rainfall to sit and spill day after day, month after month, and year after year.

What does that mean for those small Indian villages caught in the monsoon? Well, I learned about this small village by the name of Cherrrapunjee, which sits on the southern tip of the Himalayan foothills. Holding Guinness world records, Cherrrapunjee receives more rain than any other location on planet earth. Its yearly rainfall average stands at an astounding 450 inches (that’s nearly one and a quarter inches of rain per day)! A notable feature of Cherrrapunjee rain is that most of it falls during the morning hours.

To wrap it up and bring this post full-circle, I highly encourage you to check out the series How the Earth was Made (Tuesdays at 9 ET on History). Whether you are into weather (no pun intended… ya know, whether/weather) or geology, or geography or any other kind of fascinating science, or not… I guarantee you will find this series compelling.

Now can someone please find me a