Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Curvy Mountain Belts

Mountain belts on Earth are most commonly formed by collision of one or more tectonic plates.
The process of collision, uplift, and subsequent erosion of long mountain belts often produces profound global effects, including changes in regional and global climates, as well as the formation of important economic resources, including oil and gas reservoirs and ore deposits. Understanding the formation of mountain belts is thus a very important element of earth science research.

One common but poorly understood aspect of mountain belts are the many examples of curved (arcuate) mountain ranges. The Appalachian range in Pennsylvania, the Rocky Mountains in central Montana, the Blue Mountains in Oregon, the Bolivian Andes of South America, and the Cantabrian Arc in Spain and northern Africa are among many examples of noticeably curved mountain belts.
The cause of these curvy mountains is among the oldest topics of research in geology, and there is still extensive debate on what mechanisms are most important for making a curvy mountain range.

A common question is whether these presently curvy mountain ranges were originally straight and then later bent or whether they were uplifted in more or less their present shape.

Another important aspect of the origin of these curved mountain ranges is the thickness of the rock units involved in their formation. Some workers have proposed that these ranges are composed of relatively thin slices of crustal rocks (limited to several kilometers in thickness), while others have argued that at least some of these curvy ranges involve the entire thickness of the lithospheric plates (30 to 100 km thick). One of the most promising ways to answer these questions utilizes comparisons of the orientation of structural features in rocks (fault planes and joints), records of the ancient magnetic field directions found in rocks, and the timing of deformation and uplift of the mountain belts.

An international group of researchers from Spain, Canada, and the United States, led by Dr. Gabriel Gutiérrez-Alonso, have presented a compelling study of one of the best examples of curved mountain ranges: the Cantabrian Arc in Spain and northern Africa. They have compiled an extensive collection of fault and joint orientation data and directions of the ancient geomagnetic field recorded by Paleozoic rocks collected in Spain.

The Cantabrian Arc was formed during the collision of a southern set of continents (Gondwanaland [present day Africa-South America-Australia-India-Antarctica]) with a northern set of continents (Laurentia [present day North America and Eurasia]) to produce the supercontinent Pangea. In a nutshell, their combined study has found that the curved pattern of the Cantabrian Arc was produced by the bending of an originally straight mountain range.

The main line of evidence supporting this view is the patterns of rotation that are obtained from the directions of the ancient geomagnetic field recorded by the rocks of these mountain ranges. Combined with an analysis of the faults and joints in the rocks, and the ages of rocks that have variations in the amount of rotation indicated by the magnetic directions, the age of the bending of the Cantabrian Arc is confined to a relatively narrow window of geological time between 315 and 300 million years ago.

Gutiérrez-Alonso and colleagues compare the age range of this mountain bending event to the ages of igneous activity and uplift of the region and propose that widespread changes in the deeper (mantle) portion of the lithospheric plate in the area are coeval, and likely linked to, the rotation of the Cantabrian Arc to produce its characteristic sharp curviness. Based on this linkage, they propose that this, and perhaps many other, curvy mountain ranges are produced by rotation of entire portions of the lithosphere of tectonic plates, rather than just thin slices of crustal rocks.

This article is online now at GSA Today articles are open access online; for a print copy, please contact Kea Giles at Please discuss articles of interest with the authors before publishing stories on their work, and please make reference to GSA Today in articles published.

Buckling an orogen: The Cantabrian Orocline
G. Gutiérrez-Alonso et al., Depto. de Geología, Universidad de Salamanca, Plaza de los Caídos s/n, 37008 Salamanca, Spain. Posted online 27 June 2012; doi: 10.1130/GSATG141A.1.

GSA Today is The Geological Society of America's science and news magazine for members and other earth scientists. Refereed lead science articles present exciting new research or synthesize important issues in a format understandable to all in the earth science community. GSA Today often features a refereed "Groundwork" article — a tightly focused paper on issues of import to earth science policy, planning, funding, or education. All GSA Today articles are open access at

The July 2012 GSA Today science article is now online at

Kea Giles | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>