Scientists Mapping Hidden Mountains Taller than Everest

These huge peaks are located inside the Earth, but much about them is unknown
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2023 4:40 PM CDT
Scientists Mapping Hidden Mountains Taller than Everest
File photo from New Zealand.   (Brett Phibbs/Tourism New Zealand via AP)

At more than 29,000 feet, Mt. Everest is popularly known as the tallest mountain on Earth. What many may not know, however, is that there are mountain ranges within the earth that have peaks as much as four times higher than Everest. In a BBC report, the British public broadcaster details years-long efforts by teams of researchers studying the planet's interior to learn more about mountainous structures beneath the surface. The mountains, located between the planet's molten core and its mantle, were discovered by researchers in 1996 who were looking into the way seismic waves from major events passed through the core-mantle boundary.

The BBC says that in studying 25 quakes, researchers noted that seismic waves slowed at certain "jagged" points on that boundary. It turns out these points are deeply buried mountain ranges, with some of the peaks at heights ranging between 1.7 and 24 miles. So seismologists know the peaks are there, but they are otherwise mysterious in many ways. As the BBC puts it, "no one knows how they got there, or what they're made of." They can be found at various locations all around the Earth, with one particularly huge specimen located beneath the Hawaiian Islands.

There are multiple theories regarding the peaks' origins, with one of the more likely being that they result from the planet's core superheating the rocky mantle above. In a University of Alabama press release about the deep mountain range study, geophysicist Samantha Hansen said "seismic investigations, such as ours, provide the highest resolution imaging of the interior structure of our planet, and we are finding that this structure is vastly more complicated than once thought."

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The mysteries don't stop with massive mountains around the core, however. As NBC reported in 2019, scientists are also curious about huge "mantle blobs" found floating just above the planet's center. Approximately the size of Australia, these blobs can produce plumes of molten material—the kinds of plumes that cause eruptions from massive supervolcanoes such as the one beneath Yellowstone. (Read the full BBC story.)

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