Geography of the Himalayas

The Himalayas are the tallest mountain range in the world-they have long inspired stories and tales of far off lands, their clouded heights prompting the creation of myths and legends by those who live at the feet of some of the tallest and most imposing mountains in the world. This young mountain range boasts the likes of K2 and Mount Everest, the tallest mountain and arguably home to some of the most deadly as well.

The geography of the Himalaya mountain range is impressive because the mountain range is young in terms of history, giving it striking and imposing features that have yet to be softened by the effects of time like other mountain ranges in the world. The Himalaya range was formed by the tectonic movement of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate converging along their borders deep underneath the surface of the Earth. This plate movement caused the abrupt upheaval of the Earth’s surface, creating the dramatic mountain range we see today. Both the Indo-Australian and Eurasian Plates are made up of low density continental crust material which allowed them to rise into the mountain range as opposed to subconducting, one above the other. One piece of evidence supporting this theory is that study of the rock material at the top of Mount Everest reveals a significant presence of marine limestone.


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The Indo-Australian plate is also moving horizontally against the Tibetan plateau which also assists in the further lifting of the Himalaya range. Current estimations state that the Himalayas are rising at a rate of about 5 millimeters per year as a result of the continued tectonic activity going on deep below. This movement also creates geologic instability in the range, leading to often devastating earthquakes affecting rural areas of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet. The Himalaya can be broken up into multiple zones, each with unique and different material structures and makeups. These zones are often called the Trans-Himalaya, the Tethyan Himalaya, the Higher Himalaya, the Lesser Himalaya and the Sub-Himalaya. A formation called the Tethys Trench that became part of the Himalaya range when the Indo-Australian and Eurasian Plates collided was made up of a blend of granite and basalt infused into weaker sedimentary layers which is now easily studied, recognized, and placed next to other parts of the Himalaya range for comparison.

Location of the Himalayas mountain range.

Location of the Himalayas mountain range.

The Himalaya contain glaciers on all sides, some intersecting and joining with each other and others ebbing and flowing solitarily with the rapid changes in the mountain weather patterns. The Himalaya are the perfect breeding ground for new glaciers as it is the highest range in the world and can support consistent glacial formation along the majority of its approximate 1,500 mile length. At an average width of 100-150 miles wide the Himalaya provide an imposing geographical barrier between the northern Plateau of Tibet and India to the south.

The Himalayas’ largest peaks include Mount Everest (at 29,035 feet tall), Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Dhaulagiri, Nanga Parbat, and Annapurna all of whose summits are above 25,000 feet. The Himalaya range is actually made up of three smaller mountain ranges running very close to each other- the Siwalik Hills, the Lesser Himalaya, and the Greater Himalaya. The ends of these ranges come together to form the Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges running west and lead into the Indochinese Peninsula to the east. The Himalaya range creates many watersheds and feed into the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra Rivers flowing through India and onwards to the ocean.

Himalaya from the International Space Station. In addition to looking heavenward, NASA helps the world see the Earth in ways no one else can. Astronauts on board the International Space Station recently took advantage of their unique vantage point to photograph the Himalayas, looking south from over the Tibetan Plateau. The perspective is illustrated by the summits of Makalu [left (8,462 metres; 27,765 feet)], Everest [middle (8,848 metres; 29,035 feet)] , Lhotse [middle (8,516 metres; 27,939 feet)] and Cho Oyu [right (8,201 metres; 26,906 feet)] -- at the heights typically flown by commercial aircraft.

The Himalayas from the International Space Station. Astronauts on board the International Space Station photographed the Himalayas, looking south from over the Tibetan Plateau. The perspective is illustrated by the summits of Makalu [left (8,462 metres; 27,765 feet)], Everest [middle (8,848 metres; 29,035 feet)] , Lhotse [middle (8,516 metres; 27,939 feet)] and Cho Oyu [right (8,201 metres; 26,906 feet)] — at the heights typically flown by commercial aircraft.

The Himalaya mountain range, along with being a prime destination for mountain climbers and outdoor aficionados from around the world, are a geographical and cartographical wonder that have fascinated scientists and researchers for generations. The sheer height, width, and depth of the Himalaya serve as a template for the study of current (or present day) effects of the, wind, weather, climate, and affects that mankind may have on the geography of a mountain range. The Himalaya range is an intense geographical feature full of nooks and crannies, hidden canyons and mysteries that cartographers have been pouring over for years. The socio-political effects of the Himalaya and its boundaries have shaped cultures and world politics, helped create countries and defeat armies. Time will tell what secrets the Himalaya will reveals in the years to come.

References

Himalayan Voices. Origins and Geography. http://himalayanvoices.org/?q=onlinelib/readings/themes/origin

PBS Nature: The Himalaya. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/the-himalayas/himalayas-facts/6341/

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