What’s the tallest mountain on Earth? If you said Everest, you’d be sort of wrong – Everest is the highest mountain above sea level, but not the tallest. That title is taken by Mauna Kea (because most of it is in the Pacific Ocean). But that’s just on Earth – is there something taller inside?
As it turns out, yes there is – and they’re much, much bigger. Experts using seismology centers in Antarctica have identified a mysterious set of mountains within a layer inside the Earth and the peaks there are astonishingly huge. At around four to five times the size of Mount Everest, these “mountains” exist in a boundary between the core and mantle, and this boundary appears to interact with features we see on the Earth’s surface a surprising amount.
This boundary was identified in 1996 by scientists who used seismic waves from earthquakes to look into the composition of the Earth. This is the traditional way to look under the Earth’s surface – large events like earthquakes and nuclear blasts release waves that travel at different speeds through different states of matter, and this can be measured. As such, scientists create bases at the most remote corners of the globe (in this case, Antarctica) and pick these waves up as they travel through the Earth to create a map of the different layers within.
They were looking at an image created by 25 different earthquakes and found something peculiar – between the Earth’s molten core and the more fluid mantle, there was a jagged area of vast subterranean “mountains”.
Now, new data suggests this jagged layer has been found to produce “mountain ranges” in many different areas, but which remain a complete enigma. What are they made of? How are they formed and what is their purpose? Scientists simply don’t know.
“Analyzing 1,000’s of seismic recordings from Antarctica, our high-definition imaging method found thin anomalous zones of material at the CMB [core-mantle boundary] everywhere we probed,” said Dr Edward Garnero, author of the latest study, in a statement.
“The material’s thickness varies from a few kilometers to 10’s of kilometers. This suggests we are seeing mountains on the core, in some places up to 5 times taller than Mt. Everest.”
It is thought that this layer could be partially made up of the remains of an ancient ocean floor, in which the seabed material was sucked downwards at the border where two tectonic plates meet. This material accumulates and forms areas of deposited subducted material, creating incredible mountains – maybe Godzilla actually had it correct?
This hypothesis may explain why bizarre volcanoes appear in unexpected places, with huge plumes of hot material traveling up from these ancient ocean floor deposits through the mantle and erupting from volcanoes on the surface.
The new study is published in Science Advances.