Will the Himalaya Mountains, home to the world's highest peaks, continue to push up into the sky in future? Some Chinese scientists say no.
The Himalayas may have reached their highest altitude and in the centuries to come may even shrink a little, said Bian Qiantao, a researcher with the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Bian is taking part in a month-long scientific expedition to the Himalayas.
Located on the southern rim of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Himalaya Mountains form an arc protruding southward. The main part of the range lies in China. "Himalaya" means "abode of snow" in Tibetan. The average height of these mountains is more than 6,000 meters.
Scientists believe that 65 million years ago, the Indian Plate moving north collided with the Eurasian Plate, and the upheaval saw the emergence of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as well as the Himalayas.
"Friction between the tectonic plates continues to this day, gradually pushing the Himalayas upward," said Bian.
"But at the same time, a horizontal pulling power inside the lower continental crust and mantle of the earth counteracts this upward movement," said Bian.
According to measurements made by scientists in 2005, the altitude of Mount Qomolangma is 8844.43 meters, 3.70 meters lower than the figure obtained in 1975.
The result suggests that the Himalayas and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau will not continue to move up indefinitely. After growing to a certain height, the effect of gravity and collision-generated extrusion will make them grow wider, but not higher, Bian said.
Other scientists argue that if the range grows horizontally, a huge graben a basin formed between parallel fault lines will be formed somewhere on the plateau. They believe that as the collision of continents continues, the altitude of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Himalayas will continue to increase.
(China Daily October 20, 2006)