Making Mountains Out Of Movements [NU008]
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.
"Rocks rich in gems, and mountains big with mines,
that on the high equator ridgy rise"
How Mountains are Made
Mountain building (or, in the jargon, orogeny) is a topic which has been been one of the
basics of geology. Details of the manner and conditions under which most of the Earth's
present mountain chains were formed, and the times at which they arose, have reached a settled
However the basic mechanisms by which mountains have been formed are not so settled,
there has been no completely satisfying explanation for why mountains have been formed
where they were. If you look at the mountains on Earth, they mostly fall into one of two classes,
which we can call 'long' and 'fat'.
The 'long' mountains are those which form extensive chains. A prime example is the
Andes Mountains in South America, stretching right down the west coast of the continent.
Often they are regarded as an extension of the Rocky Mountains of North America, connected
to these by the mountain chain running right through Central America. Other mountain chains
have been identified which are partly submerged, like the Aleutian Island chain in the north
Pacific, or even wholly submerged like the mid-Atlantic ridges.
'Long' mountains are almost
always associated with
volcanic activity, either now or
in the past. As a result, they are
usually assumed to have been
formed by volcanic activity. If
the mountain chain is part of a
continent, the rocks which
make it up are usually high in
silica, of a class called 'acidic'
or continental. In contrast,
mountain chains formed in the
sea have rocks which, like the
sea-bed around them, are
lower in silica and are called
'basic' or oceanic. Both types
of rock are classed as 'igneous'
(derived from fire), that is, they
are assumed to have been formed from the cooling down of molten rock.
'Fat' mountains, in the sense used here, tend to be oval in outline rather than linear, and
often contain plateaus and wide basins. The rocks they contain are often of sedimentary origin
rather than of igneous (volcanic) origin, and sometimes they contain elaborate folded
structures, in which beds of sedimentary rock have clearly been crumpled up and pushed
against each other, sometimes right over each other. They usually don't contain volcanos.
And they are not found submerged, as 'undersea massifs', on the deeper ocean beds.
A clear example of 'fat' mountains is the Himalayas. Fat mountains are assumed to result
from various forces of compression occurring in the Earth's crust. The origin of these forces
is often glossed over, but is sometimes purely a matter of impact. The Himalayas are now
generally accepted as resulting from an impact between India (drifting north after breaking off
from Gondwanaland) and that part of Laurasia which is now occupied by western China and
the south-eastern section of the USSR.
Fig. 8.1. Mountains of the western USA
Other mountains appear more mixed in origin. However, in these, it is usually possible to
say that both the 'long' mechanism and the 'fat' mechanism have operated, rather than a single
'intermediate' mechanism. Thus the mountains of the western United States (Fig. 8.1) appear
to consist of a 'long' component, running along parallel to the coast, backed by a 'fat'
component (the 'Rockies' proper) further inland.
In Chapter 7 we had evidence that most of the present land surface is a patchwork of
'domains' of very varying sizes, pushed together or pulled apart by forces associated with
Earth expansion. This leads very naturally to the suggestion that all mountain-building is a
result of forces due to Earth expansion, expressed through the interaction of Earth domains.
All mountains have been created through the interaction of
Taking the 'fat' mechanism first, the suggestion is that all 'fat' mountains have been
formed by impacts between Earth domains. As the domains are very varied in size,
composition, and origin, the resulting landforms are themselves very varied. Some areas may
have been worked over more than once, having been impacted from more than one side. As
already noted, such a mechanism has already been accepted for the origin of the Himalayas.
Other fairly clear 'fat' areas are the Swiss-Austrian Alps, formed by the impact of Italy against
what is now central Europe, and the Pyrenees, formed by Spain hitting against France.
'Fat' mountains have been created by domain impacts
The suggested origin of 'long' mountains is more controversial. As these mountains are
almost invariably associated with volcanos, to date it has been implicitly assumed that the
volcanism caused the mountains. From the evidence already given in this book, it appears that
a simpler and more reasonable explanation is that 'long' mountains are formed by the frictional action of domains sliding one against the other, causing melting and volcanism. As before, the domains are in motion because
of Earth expansion.
'Long' mountains have been created by domain rubbing
It is reasonable that any two domains in sliding contact will have somewhat rough edges,
which do not match each other. If they move relative to one another, the 'burrs' along the edges
will naturally pile up to create local high spots. If they continue to slide and rub, or if there
is a chain of them active in a shuffle belt, eventually a whole mountain chain will be built up
along the junction.
This gives a simple explanation for an observed phenomenon. It also leads to a most
important conclusion relating to volcanos and other geothermic phenomena such as hot
The Origin of Volcanos
Volcanos are hot -- hot enough to contain molten rock. It has been more or less taken for
granted in the past that this hot rock has welled up from the molten core of the Earth, which
has pushed up through 'lines of weakness' in the crust.
In the next chapter, we will see that the concept that the heat of volcanos comes from the
Earth's molten core has little evidence to support it. Leaving the evidence of this point aside
for the moment, we can see that it has a vital implication for the origin of volcanos. If their
heat does not come from the molten core of the Earth, where does it come from?
It appears likely to me that the heat in volcanos is generated by frictional heating of the edge
rocks of two domains sliding one against the other. The intense heat generated through friction
is well known -- a classic example is making fire by rubbing two sticks together.
The heat generated through friction is usually dependent on the coefficient of friction
('roughness') and the masses and relative speed of the objects rubbing together. When we are
talking about about Earth domains, these masses are enormously large compared to the
everyday objects we see involved in friction, and their capacity to generate heat is equally
enormous. It is certainly easily great enough to melt rocks.
Volcanos are created by the friction between rubbing
This proposition accords well with the fact that the molten rocks coming out of volcanos
are generally of similar overall chemical composition to the surrounding country. If they were
really formed by molten core rock, pushing up through 'weak places' in the Earth's crust, they
might all be expected to be of 'basic' composition like the rock assumed to underlie the 'acidic'
continental material. In practice, only volcanos sitting on oceanic-rock sea beds produce
basic-rock flows, those which are sited on typical continental rocks produce acidic-rock flows.
The proposition also fits in with the known physical properties of rocks, especially their
thermal properties. Rocks conduct heat quite poorly and also hold a lot of heat well. This is
just the sort of situation where, if a massive amount of heat is injected through friction, a
section of rock will melt and possibly become hot enough for the heat to spread
slowly into adjacent rocks.
If the heat input is great enough, or is created close enough to the surface, it may spread
enough to melt its way through to the surface and create a volcano -- essentially an artesian
molten-rock flow or rock 'gusher'. If there is not enough heat for this, the molten rock will
slowly cool, insulated by the surrounding rock, and allow crystallization to occur -- visible
crystals are specially characteristic of acidic rocks such as granite.
An important corollary of Proposition 8D relates to the rock the volcanos produce, and also
to other igneous rocks. That is, that igneous rocks are produced by domain friction, and are
not 'primeval' products left over from the Earth's assumed molten beginnings.
Igneous rocks are produced locally, through domain rubbing,
and not from a 'primeval' Earth source
The existence under the surface of vaguely spherical bodies of igneous rocks is well
known; smaller ones are represented as 'magma chambers' (magma is molten rock), and
larger, solidified ones as 'batholiths'. An interesting point is that batholiths are normally
elongated along the line of a mountain chain
Figure 8.2 is a conventional representation of the rise of hot molten rock from the Earth's
largely unknown inner reaches, and its further ascent to form a volcano. Shown is a large
batholith, at the base of a thick layer of crustal rocks, itself connected to a magma chamber
which has intruded into the layers of sedimentary rock beneath the land surface. This again
is connected through a magma pipe with the cone and mouth of a volcano formed by the rock
which solidified after flowing out from it.
Fig. 8.2. Conventional
representation of volcanos
Why should the magma come up from below and force its way through at this particular
point? This is assumed to be due to 'weaknesses' in the Earth's crust at those points.
Now Figure 8.2 is obviously very diagrammatic and not to scale, but the situation it
illustrates is, in my view, nonsense. No credible mechanisms have ever been suggested for
why immense batholiths should happen to form at particular places, no reason for magma to
be intruded and melt out 'chambers' at odd points within the sedimentary layers. In fact such
behaviour is quite contrary to what we know about the flow of heat through materials such as
Worst of all, as we shall see in the next chapter, there is no evidence that the inner reaches
of the Earth are made up of molten rock in the ordinary sense. This takes away the whole basis
for the supposed pushing out of molten rock from volcanos through pressure from reserves
within the Earth.
The concept of igneous rocks being formed locally, through the heat of friction caused by domain-edge rubbing, provides a far more satisfactory explanation
for the observed facts. It explains why bodies of
molten rock can be formed at quite different depths (friction
having been more active there, due to waviness of the domain-
edge surfaces). It removes the need to explain how
molten rock manages to intrude into particular spots of the
crust and melt out chambers. And it explains why batholiths
are elongated, they are elongated along the rubbing domain
Geysers and Hot Springs
As well as volcanos, there are a number of other 'geothermal'
phenomena which are not so dramatic in nature, such as
geysers and hot springs.
With geysers, visible jets of hot water and steam are
emitted periodically from holes in the earth, and some wellknown
ones have remarkably regular intervals between eruptions.
Geysers and hot springs are very often associated with
volcanic regions, but they need not be. Along the Perth
coastal sandplain, just inland from Rottnest and close to the
low granite hills of the Darling Range, some hot springs and
hot artesian bores are known. There is no sign of volcanic
activity in the area.
From the domainographic viewpoint, these more minor
geothermal phenomena are just a natural consequence of less
dramatic domain movements. In the Perth case, the sandplain
area is a slowly-moving microdomain shuffle belt, wending
its way south with just enough frictional movement to produce
the odd hot spring.
All geothermal phenomena obtain their heat components
from domain rubbing
Intermediate between the igneous rocks, cooled down from the molten state, and the
sedimentary rocks made from aggregates of erosion particles, there lie the metamorphic rocks.
Metamorphic rocks are ones which have been changed or 'metamorphosed' from their
original condition. Mostly they were once sedimentary rocks, such as limestone, which can
be metamorphosed into marble, although igneous rocks can be metamorphosed too. Often
they show marked layering; this can be a relic of the original sedimentary layering, but is
sometimes clearly a result of the metamorphic process. The sheets of the transparent mineral known as mica are an example.
It is hard to explain some of the features of metamorphic rocks on the conventional concept
of minor heat flows from a hot inner core. How could such minor heat flows lead to the
perfectly level layered features found in metamorphic rocks, tens or hundreds of kilometres
above the presumed heat source?
A natural explanation is found in the domainographic approach, which can supply the
required localized sources of heat and pressure from the grinding together of moving domain
Metamorphic rocks are formed by the heat and pressure
produced by rubbing domain edges
What causes earthquakes? Even though earthquakes have been an object of terror since
the earliest days of man, and have been studied in detail for several centuries, no satisfactory
answer to this question has ever been given.
Of course, when Continental Drift was discovered, impacts between drifting 'plates' were
suggested. Unfortunately for this idea, the 'fat' mountains formed by impact are not the usual
places where earthquakes appear. Earthquakes are almost invariably associated with 'long'
Then, when the idea of hot-rock 'convection cells' was put forward, the movements
associated with these were a candidate. This was closer, in that earthquakes are associated
with active mid-ocean ridges, supposed sites of upwelling hot rock. But they are not associated
with the deep ocean trenches, into which subducted material was supposed to be disappearing.
And the convection cells had no immediate connection with the established mountain chains
which are the real places where earthquakes are most active.
We can see now that earthquakes are a natural consequence of domain movement, in fact,
they are domain movements. When one Earth domain moves relative to another adjacent one,
it is performing an earth movement, which is another name for an earthquake. The stating of
this proposition is therefore almost a logical redundancy:
Earthquakes are the relative movements of adjacent domains
A few points which clearly support this proposition. First, it is common in earthquakes for
surface displacements to occur, to create 'steps' in railways or roads of a metre or more. This
would be expected if one domain was moving relative to another. Moreover, the displacements
give the direction of relative domain movements. For example, on the California coast,
which is accepted as moving north compared to the adjacent main mass of North America,
displacement should normally reflect this relative movement.
Then there is the matter of the depth of earthquakes. The focus of an earthquake, the point where it is most active (the assumed actual shearing zone), is not usually on the surface of the
Earth, but deeper down. In a particular broad area, the earthquake foci are not at identical
depth, but they do tend to cluster at somewhat similar depths. The focus can lie anywhere from
a few kilometres down to as much as 700 km below the surface. The cause of these last 'deep'
earthquakes is completely unknown.
If the inner Earth is expanding, and this may be in a very regular way, then adjustments to
the surface can be expected to extend quite deeply down. And, more important, a rational
reason can be given for the fact that earthquake foci occur at different depths. The differences
are due to differences in the size, shape, and physical compositions of the different domains.
So far, we have mostly looked at domains as two-dimensional objects, flat areas on the
surface of the Earth. To get a more exact idea of what is happening with earthquakes, it is
necessary to consider domains as three-dimensional objects, with not only width and breadth,
but also height.
We had the first intimation of this concept with Proposition 5E, where it was suggested that
the split of the original holodomain of continental material into Laurasia and Gondwanaland
was not an isolated event, but was just the time when continuing expansion had reached the
point of exposing underlying oceanic rock for the first time. Now we need to look at the outer
layer of the Earth as being made up of layers of domains of varying thicknesses and sizes.
Domains are three-dimensional objects of varying thicknesses,
and the surface domains which are directly observable
may be underlain by other domain-type structures
An incidental consequence of this Proposition is that there will be considerable heat
generated by friction between surface domain bottoms and sub-domain tops. A more
important consequence is that multi-level domain concepts can be developed in a quantitative
way which, for the first time, gives a real possibility of being able to predict earthquakes. This
would be a very useful thing to be able to do.
Earthquakes happen when shearing occurs between the sides of two adjacent domains.
Before the actual earthquake, huge tensions build up as the rock faces are compressed or
stretched; it is sometimes possible to detect these forces with strain gauges. Although very
rigid, different rocks have known physical properties, and the tearing, stretching or compression
they will undergo under given conditions can be calculated quite precisely.
I can see no reason why it would not be possible to calculate where and when earthquakes
will occur, once a better knowledge of the physical dimensions of domains and of the physical
properties of their component materials is obtained, and a value for the rate of Earth expansion
assumed. Such calculations may be complex and tedious, but there is nothing basically new
It should be possible to calculate where and when earthquakes
will occur, once fuller data on the domains involved is
Another mountain-building phenomenon which has been examined in recent years is
known as 'hot spots'. According to this theory, within the Earth there are a number of localized
sources of heat, of unknown origin. As the 'tectonic plates' pass over these hot spots, each in
a string of volcanic mountains is formed over the hot spot. From the ages of the various
members of a volcanic-mountain string, the direction and speed of the associated plate
movement can be calculated.
The hot-spot theory does not fit in at all with the concepts I have proposed. It is undeniable
that strings of volcanic mountains exist, and it is perfectly feasible to join up the isolated points
and conclude they represent the path of a tectonic plate over a hot spot. I believe this
conclusion is wrong.
I suspect that the apparent 'hot spots' are what is called an 'artifact'. They can be seen,
but paradoxically, they are not real. Like a moving dislocation vacancy in a crystal structure,
or the passage of an electron 'hole' in a semiconductor, the movement is only apparent, not
real. The situation is comparable to when the head of an organization resigns and is replaced
by his deputy, who is replaced by his deputy, and so on down the tree until eventually a new
recruit is taken in at the bottom.
In this situation, the job 'vacancy' starts at the top, and appears to move downwards
through the organizational tree until it is filled by the new recruit sucked in at the bottom. In
the same way, I suspect that the apparent 'hot spots' are only artifacts, created perhaps by
opposing chance protrusions in adjacent domain boundaries happening to come together as the
'Hot Spots' in the Earth are artifacts created by domain edge
movements, and not real phenomena
Of course the acceptance of this Proposition removes the nagging need to explain the
source of the energy needed to drive the hot spots. These sources would have to be pretty
special, if they were able to raise mountain after mountain, maintaining their power for many
millions of years unchanged.
We have now spent some time looking at the surface of the Earth and its uppermost layers.
We are ready now to plunge down, deep into the core of the planet.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(Full list of references at NURefs)
NU009: Inside The Earth
NU007: Putting The Earth Back Together
Go to the NUSite Home Page
Version 1.0, printed edition ("Nuteeriat: Nut Trees, the Expanding Earth, Rottnest Island, and All That...", Planetary Development Group, Tree Crops Centre, 1989).
Version 2.0, 2004, PDFs etc on World Wide Web (http://www.aoi.com.au/matrix/Nuteeriat.htm)
Version 3.0, 2014 Sep 22, Reworked from Chapter 7 of "Nuteeriat" as one article in a suite on the World Wide Web.