Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Titanic Mountain Range that Jumpstarted the Cambrian Explosion

Professors Joerg Hermann and Daniela Rubatto examine the composition of rocks from a long-vanished massive mountain range over half a billion years old. Photo: Carlos Ganade de Araujo
Australian National University scientists have just filled in another piece of the puzzle that was the Cambrian Explosion - the rapid growth and diversification of multicellular life that began about 542 million years ago.

600 million years ago, a huge mountain range the scale of the modern Himalayas ran some 2,500 kilometers across the supercontinent Gondwana, spanning much of what would become west Africa and northeast Brazil.

According to Professor Daniela Rubatto, this mountain range was so massive, it was subject to constant, intense erosion, just as the Himalayas are today. That erosion fed mineral sediments into Earth's ancient oceans, providing a massive and constant flow of rich, life-sustaining nutrients that would feed an explosion of evolutionary development.

Scientists have long proposed that a massive mountain range provided the chemicals necessary to radically change ocean chemistry and feed an explosion of multicellular life, but Dr. Rubatto and his co-researcher, the University of Sao Paulo's Dr. Carlos Ganade de Araujo finally found the ancient remains in 2013.

These mountains, formed by a collision of continents, vanished long ago, worn down over half a billion years. At the time of their formation, the violence of the continental collision, forced rocks from the Earth's crust 100 kilometers into the mantle; there, enormous pressures and baking temperatures formed unique minerals that were vital to evolutionary processes in the Earth's pre-Cambrian oceans.

Professors Hermann and Rubatto explain their work here:

Source: "The Ancient Mountains that Fed Early Life", press release, Australian National University, October 16, 2014

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