Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Outstanding for the past 15 million years: Swiss Alps have influenced Europe’s climate since the Miocene

Date:
July 10, 2012
Source:
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
Summary:
Switzerland’s highest peaks in the geologically young central Alps have been this high for quite some time, as a new study shows. 15 million years ago Europe’s own mountain range was at least as high as today. Scientists compared the isotopic ratios of water and oxygen in rocks in the Alps and Alpine foreland and were able to determine the height of the peaks in the past.

15 million old traces of precipitation in the Central Alps reveal the ancient height of the mountain range.
Credit: Copyright: Marion Campani, BiK-F

Switzerland's highest peaks in the geologically young central Alps have been this high for quite some time, as a new study shows. 15 million years ago Europe's own mountain range was at least as high as today. Scientists at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), the Goethe University in Frankfurt and the ETH Zurich compared the isotopic ratios of water and oxygen in rocks in the Alps and Alpine foreland and were able to determine the height of the peaks in the past. The study was recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Interestingly, the history of the topography of the European Alps, which are certainly the best-studied mountain range in the world, is virtually unknown. A new study is likely to reveal more, as it shows the topography of the central Alps seen today has its roots 15 million years ago. At that time the highest peaks in Switzerland were between 2,850 and 3,350 metres high. As such, the mountain range was on average even higher than today. "This leads us to conclude that the bulk of Alpine topography was built over 15 million years ago, when Europe collided with Africa and the accretion rates exceeded removal by erosion at the same time," explains Marion Campani, the lead author of the study at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F).

Alps have influenced precipitation in southern Europe for 15 million years

High mountain ranges form a natural obstacle for moist air masses and can affect the climate on both sides of it. Their height is the decisive factor. The new findings therefore lead to conclusions about precipitation patterns in southern Europe and Eurasia and indirectly about conditions for the development of entire ecosystems in the Mediterranean as well. This means that the Alps as they have towered this region for the past 15 million years have determined the transport of precipitation since then from the Atlantic toward central Europe and Eurasia. Therefore the mountain range had a crucial effect on the climate in the eastern Mediterranean. "In the past this region was repeatedly threatened by drought and is a hotspot for water shortages associated with global warming. If you want to understand the climate of the past and derive projections from the future of the region from it, you can't avoid the Alps," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Mulch, BiK-F and Goethe University Frankfurt.

Previous height determined by geochemical traces of precipitation

How high mountains were during their history can be reconstructed by means of oxygen isotopes. Preserved in rocks, they store information about precipitation in the past over millions of years. This works because both elements occur as differently weighted isotopes. With increasing amounts of precipitation the proportion of heavy isotopes of oxygen systematically decreases. So the ratio of heavy to light isotopes in ancient rainwater tells you how high the area was the precipitation fell unto at a particular period. In a novel approach the researchers compared for the first time precipitation from the Alpine foreland (which were approximately at sea level at the time) and from the former highland areas of the Alps. Thus they were able to determine the relative difference in the height of the mountains compared to the planes. "In addition, mountains over a certain height are capable of influencing the climate and continental rainfall patterns themselves. Which is why we also have to consider the moisture source so we can take account of initial changes in the composition and amount of precipitation in the isotope analysis," says Campani about the method of the study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Campani, A. Mulch, O. Kempf, F. Schlunegger, N. Mancktelow. Miocene paleotopography of the Central Alps. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2012; 337-338: 174 DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.05.017

Cite This Page:

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Outstanding for the past 15 million years: Swiss Alps have influenced Europe’s climate since the Miocene." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710093407.htm>.
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. (2012, July 10). Outstanding for the past 15 million years: Swiss Alps have influenced Europe’s climate since the Miocene. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710093407.htm
Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. "Outstanding for the past 15 million years: Swiss Alps have influenced Europe’s climate since the Miocene." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710093407.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) — As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Research on plaque from ancient teeth shows that our prehistoric ancestor's had a detailed understanding of plants long before developing agriculture. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

AP (July 18, 2014) — Forty-five years ago Sunday, Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. Speaking at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Aldrin described what he was thinking right before the historic walk. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins