An ancient mountain range, part of the supercontinent Gondwana, once fed early life flourishing in today's west Africa and northeast Brazil, according to a new study.
Some 600 million years ago, Earth was teeming with life in parts of what is now Africa and Brazil, all thanks to some unnamed mountains spanning at least 2,500 kilometers (~1.550 miles) - about as large as the Himalayas in South Asia.
So how exactly did this mountain range serve as the fountain of life? The secret lies in its rubble.
"Just like the Himalayas, this range was eroded intensely because it was so huge. As the sediments washed into the oceans they provided the perfect nutrients for life to flourish," Professor Daniela Rubatto, of the Research School of Earth Sciences at The Australian National University (ANU), said in a statement.
"Although the mountains have long since washed away, rocks from their roots told the story of the ancient mountain range's grandeur," added co-researcher Professor Joerg Hermann.
While the discovery sheds some light on this ancient explosion of life, it also shows for the first time that there were once mountains on this Earth comparable in size to the awe-inspiring Himalayas.
So if the mountain chain has long since disappeared, how did scientists find evidence of its existence? The proof literally came to the surface.
The mountains were first formed when two continents collided, pushing rocks from the crust down 100 kilometers (62 miles) deep into the Earth's mantle. As the mountains eroded, its roots came back up to the surface, to be collected in Togo, Mali and northeast Brazil, by Brazilian co-researcher Carlos Ganade de Araujo, from the University of Sao Paulo and Geological Survey of Brazil.
Using world-leading equipment, researchers were able to recreate rock samples subjected to the same pressures and temperatures as those pushed down into Earth's mantle. Though comparison, they determined that they must have come from a mountain range existing some 600 million years ago.
The findings are described in further detail in the journal Nature Communications.
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