Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed a new model that simulates the development of the central Alps.
The Alps is a mountain range that stretches across middle Europe over 8 countries (France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia and Liechtenstein). They formed around 770 million years ago when the Adriatic Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate.
The new model has resulted in radical results considering the current beliefs about the formation of the Alps. Previous studies suggest that when the two aforementioned plates collided, rock material squeezed by the Adriatic plate was elevated to form the mountains. The massive amounts of rocks that gathered together applied high gravitational loads to the Eurasian plate and a sedimentary basin (the Swiss Molasse Plateau) was created. As the mountains continued getting higher, this plateau sank even more.
Nevertheless, the authors of the present study suggest an alternative mechanism that would explain the formation of the Alps. In particular, the team noticed that even when the growth of the Alps was halted, the Swiss Plateau persisted sinking and expanding. Therefore, they raised concerns about their supposed connection. In other words, based on the existing models, since the Plateau is growing, the height of the Alps should have changed. Another fact that disputes the theories is that 40 years of earthquake recordings suggest that the Swiss Alps are currently in a tensional tectonic regime, a fact that is opposed to the compression theory.
The study suggests a new scenario for the creation of the Alps. According to that, 60 million years ago, the oceanic section of the Eurasian plate sunk beneath the continental part of the Adriatic plate. 30 million years after, the continental part of the Eurasian plate reached the subduction zone and a continental collision between the two plates initiated. The crust then emerged as a result of the collision to create the fabled mountain range. “It was these upward forces that caused the Alps to form, not the bulldozer effect as a result of two continental plates colliding,” Edi Kissling, co-author of the study and a Professor of Geophysics at the ETH Zurich, stated.
The new model which is known as "Detaching and uplifting", takes into account the plate dynamic behavior and is far more advanced than the existing "rigid" approaches. The entire process of the Alps formation based on the current model is depicted in the video below.
The study also provides significant findings of the seismic activity in the Alps. The model showed that, below the mountain range, earthquakes tend to occur more frequently at shallow depths whereas below the Swiss Plateau and the Jura Mountains they struck at greater depths.
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