The Alps: Youngest and Highest Mountain System in Europe

Pages: 10 (2434 words) Published: February 25, 2013
The Alps are the youngest and highest mountain system in Europe. They stretch across the western and southern part of the continent in a broad arc. The mountain range startsnear the Mediterranean Seaon the  border between France and Italy. Then it curves north- and eastward through northern Italy, Switzerland Liechtenstein, southern Germany, Austria and Slovenia.

The Alps are about 1,000 km long, the broadest section over 260 km wide. The highest peak, Mont Blanc, situated on the border between France, Italy and Switzerland, rises 4807 meters above sea level . Other famous peaks are the Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, the Großglockner and the Zugspitze.

How the Alps were formed

Millions of years ago the area of today’s Alps  was covered by a large sea that separated Europe and Africa. The southern land mass started moving northwards. This movement folded rock layers at the bottom of the sea. Heat and pressure transformed the rock and  pushed the material upwards . Today these regions are the highest parts of the Alps. Most of the newly formed rock is granite and gneiss, but many ranges consist of limestone which also formed on the seabed.

During the Ice Age, which started about a million years ago, the Alps were covered with a thick blanket of snow. Glaciers moved down valleys and made them wider and deeper. As they moved they took rock and other material with them, creating moraines. When glaciers started to melt water filled up behind these natural dams and created the alpine lakes we know today.47

The largest of these glaciers is the Aletsch in Switzerland which reaches a length of about 25 km. The longest glacier of the eastern Alps is the 8 km long Pasterze, at the foot of the Großglockner.

The ice and snow of the alpine regions helped create the large rivers of today : the Rhine, Rhone, Danube and the Po.

Geology of alps…and how they were formed??
 The Alps were formed over hundreds of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided; the extreme compression caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentation rising and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn


Main articles: Alpine orogeny and Geology of the Alps
Important geological concepts were established as naturalists began studying the rock formations of the Alps in the 18th century. In the mid-19th century the now defunct theory of geosynclineswas used to explain the presence of "folded" mountain chains but by the mid-20th century the theory of plate tectonics became widely accepted.[17]


The geologic folding seen at the Arpanaz waterfall, shown here in a mid-18th century drawing, was noted by 18th-century geologists.[18] The formation of the Alps (the Alpine orogeny) was an episodic process that began about 300 million years ago.[19] In the Paleozoic Era At the beginning of the Paleozoic, life existed only in or near the ocean. Trilobites, shellfish, corals, and sponges appeared, followed by the first fish. Land plants appeared near the end of the Ordovician and for the first time we see the green of land plants in our global view.  the Pangaeansupercontinent consisted of a single tectonic plate; it broke into separate plates during the Mesozoic Era The Mesozoic Era lasted about 180 million years, and is divided into three periods, the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous. Each of these periods is divided into many epochs and ages. Mesozoic means "Middle Animal" and is sometimes called the age of reptiles.  during the Jurassic Period Tethys sea developed between Laurasia and Gondwana which was formed due to the breaking up of pangea .[17] The Tethys was later squeezed between colliding plates causing the formation of mountain ranges called the Alpide belt, from Gibraltar through the Himalayas to Indonesia—a process that began at the end of the Mesozoic and continues into the present. The formation of the Alps was a segment of this...
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