According to a new study by scientists at Bristol University, which measured the impact of rainfall, rain can shift mountains and blur the landscape quickly enough to “suck the stones” out of the ground. The scientists developed a technique to study particles from space inside the grains of sand found in mountain regions.
These particles, called “space clocks,” were used by the researchers to measure the speed at which rivers erode the rocks beneath them, and to find out what effect downpours had on this erosion. After “painstakingly complex” measurements, the team discovered that a mixture of atmospheric and solid earth processes together form mountainous regions.
Scientists say their discovery can help predict the impact of climate change on landscapes and the 720 million people living in mountainous regions around the world. Leading author of the study, Dr. Byron Adams explained that the fact that more rain, affecting the rivers, can form mountains may seem intuitive, but still it is only a theory, the measurements that confirm it are in reality extremely complex. Therefore, their discovery can be called an “exciting breakthrough”, as it proves the idea of the relationship between atmospheric and solid processes on Earth.
The study was conducted in the central and eastern Himalayas of Bhutan and Nepal because this region of the world has become one of the most popular landscapes for studying the erosion rate. Dr. Adams, along with staff from the University of Arizona (ASU) and the University of Louisiana, used a space clock inside the grains of sand to measure the rate at which rivers were eroding the rocks beneath them. He explained: “When a cosmic particle from space reaches Earth, it probably hits grains of sand on the slopes of hills when it is carried to rivers. When this happens, some atoms in each grain of sand can turn into a rare element.
The scientists developed a model that allowed them to quantify how precipitation affects the erosion rate in rough terrain. They note that their results show how important it is to consider precipitation when assessing the patterns of tectonic activity. And this is very important for land and infrastructure management, as it is often a constant risk in mountainous areas.