Morocco’s Amazing Floating Atlas Mountains

The Amazing Floating Atlas Mountains of Morocco


Floating mountains are not just confined to the pages of fantasy novels — they are real, and they are Morocco’s amazing Atlas Mountains, which float upon a molten layer of rock, according to scientists.

The Atlas Mountains disprove the concept that mountains need to be supported by deep roots, though the mountain range pays for its distinction of being a floating mountain range by also being unstable.

Beneath the region’s lithosphere lies a layer of flowing molten rock, according to researchers from the University of Southern California (USC). They theorize that the layer of molten rock could extend all the way from the Canary Islands, which are volcanic in origin.

Earth science assistant professor Meghan Miller, the study’s lead author, states that the findings of her team’s research show that the structure and formation of mountains “are far more complex than previously believed.”

Current models of how the Earth’s lithosphere behaves and looks could be thrown out the window because the Atlas Mountains, which float on molten rock, don’t seem to conform to the models. They don’t correspond with the idea that the height of the crust of the Earth has to be supported by an even greater depth, like how only the top third of icebergs are seen, supported by the other two-thirds, below the water. The Atlas Mountains violate this property known as “isostacy.”

Just how “out of balance” are the Atlas Mountains?

According to the study’s coauthor, Thorston Becker, the Atlas Mountains are not in balance due to a combination of deep mantle dynamics and anomalies in the existing lithospheric strength.

But, just how out of balance are the Atlas Mountains? To discover that, Becker and Miller measured surface vibrations using 15 seismometers which measure and recorded 67 distinct seismic events. The data they collected enabled them to get an idea of what the deep subsurface was like below the mountain range.

The Atlas Mountains attain a height of greater than 13,000 feet, but they reach a depth of just around 25 miles. Current, traditional, models of the Earth’s lithosphere predict that the depth of the mountains should extend down about 9 miles further.

The research by the University of Southern California’s team was published in the Geology journal on New Year’s Day and was featured in the journal Nature Geoscience.

According to Miller, the results of the study show that deformation “contributes to mountain building even far away from plate boundaries.”

Currently, Miller, Becker, and the other members of their research team are researching to what extent the “timing and effects of the mountain building” have on other geological processes.

Morocco’s amazing Atlas Mountains are perhaps the world’s only floating mountain range. Their “roots” are not as deep as those of other mountain ranges, because they float upon a layer of molten rock, defying current models of the Earth’s lithosphere. They are the non-conformists of mountain ranges.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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