Rainfall Can Move Mountains, Groundbreaking Discovery Proves

A groundbreaking technique shows exactly how mountains bend to rain.
Fabienne Lang
The photo credit line may appear like thisstsmhn/iStock

Mountains are known to move and to be created through tectonic plate movement, as well as shifts in the Earth's crust. However, they can also shift and change due to climate and erosion on the surface of the Earth, especially as a recent study from the University of Bristol has demonstrated, mountains can be moved by rain

The dramatic erosion effect of raindrops on mountains was captured by the researchers, and their findings were published in the journal Science Advances.


Raindrops on mountains

The effect that raindrops have on mountains is a long-standing debate between geologists, as the study stated

Now, however, the new study has a way of showing the exact effect rain has on mountains, from how it sculpts peaks and digs valleys over millions of years.

As Byron Adams, lead author of the study from the University of Bristol, said, "Scientists have also believed rain can erode a landscape quickly enough to essentially ‘suck’ the rocks out of the Earth, effectively pulling mountains up very quickly."

The study focused on the Himalayas

The team focused its work on the mightiest of mountain ranges on Earth, the Himalayas, specifically, on the central and eastern Himalayas in Nepal and Bhutan.

The researchers, including collaborators from Arizona State University (ASU) and Louisiana State University, used cosmic clocks in sand grains to measure the speed at which rivers erode the rocks beneath them.

"We tested a wide variety of numerical models to reproduce the observed erosion rate pattern across Bhutan and Nepal. Ultimately only one model was able to accurately predict the measured erosion rates," Dr. Adams said. "This model allows us for the first time to quantify how rainfall affects erosion rates in rugged terrain."

The team's findings are not only interesting from a geologist's standpoint, as they also have important implications for matters such as land use management, infrastructure management, and natural hazards in the area—offering the potential of keeping millions of lives safe. 

"With our cutting-edge techniques to measure erosion rates and rock properties, we will be able to better understand how rivers and volcanoes have influenced each other in the past," explained Dr. Adams.

"This will help us to more accurately anticipate what is likely to happen after future volcanic eruptions and how to manage the consequences for communities living nearby," he continued, demonstrating the extent to which this new discovery may keep communities around the world safe.

All thanks to observing rainfall.


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