Some people prefer to lie in the sun on the beach all year round and others are more often drawn to the mountains. In Switzerland we enjoy a wonderful mountain range that attracts people from all over the world. How and when were mountains formed and why do they need to be protected?
Mountains – that doesn't only make Swiss hearts beat faster. People from all over the world are drawn to the mountains, whether for local recreation, sport or even extreme achievements such as climbing the eight-thousand-metre peaks in the Himalayas. Since mountains are found all over the world and reach different heights, the mountains offer a place where all mountain lovers find their pleasure.
But how did they evolve, the mountains we love so much? And since when do they exist?
Defining mountains: that's not so easy
We can all distinguish mountains and hills at first go, but can we put that into words? Well, a mountain can be a bit more substantial than a hill. High, steep, clearly perceptible it stands out from the landscape. Several geologically related mountains are then a real mountain range. To put it in a nutshell: Tuscany has hills. Switzerland has mountains and even mountain ranges – and the Netherlands neither.
Since when have there been mountains on our earth?
Our Alps were created 130 million years ago. The surface of the earth is in constant motion, and the plates that support the continents float on the hot lava of the earth's core. The African continental plate is constantly drifting northwards. Due to its pressure at the meeting with the European plate, it has literally unfolded the surface of the earth. This is hard granite rock, but with enough pressure, it can be done. The forces acting on it are unimaginable for us. That is why the summit of the Matterhorn, to give you an example, is actually an African immigrant. Geologically speaking, at least.
This is how mountains are formed
Mountains are thus created by the so-called continental drift – but also by volcanic activity. A volcano is a kind of yielding point where the pressure inside the earth seeks a valve and drives hot lava and pumice to the surface. This also happens where continental plates meet. The Pacific "ring of fire" of volcanic upheavals is well known. However, volcanoes can also erupt in places where the earth's crust moves only slightly.
In summary, there are mountains everywhere where the earth's crust was in motion or is still moving. This is true for South America as well as for the Himalayas – because India has, so to speak, been rammed into the Asian continent. Large, unbroken continental areas, on the other hand, favour the lowlands, such as the Siberian steppe or the Gobi Desert, but also extensive plains in North America.
Animal and plant life in the mountains
Now they are here, the mountains, and they have a decisive influence on us humans, the animal and plant world and the climate. Mountains are so-called weather dividers. Alone because of their height, they influence the air currents in their surroundings and cause clouds to rain down on them. The resulting moisture is deposited as rain or snow, depending on the altitude. Mountains favour the formation of glaciers, rain forests and cloud forests. Special fauna and flora settle on their mountainsides.
This is what makes them so attractive for people – many people climb the mountain peaks and enjoy the unique view. Others use the mountains for winter or summer sports or observe the diverse flora and fauna. So, the mountains offer a cleansing oasis for everyone.
The mountain ecosystem needs protection
Of course, this also means that the mountain ecosystem suffers from the onslaught of the ever-growing number of visitors. One example is the Himalayas, where every year the locals transport unbelievable amounts of litter to the valley, which the visitors leave behind. Even the deforestation of forests for new ski slopes in the Alps is not good for the mountains. Less is certainly more in this case. If we want to continue to enjoy and preserve the diversity of our mountains, we should do so with caution and the necessary care in our dealings with nature.