Climbers who make it come the height of mountain Everest may not know it, however under the snowpack sits an expanse the mottled gray rocks that once lay top top the s floor.

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The rocks arrived at this how amazing spot, almost 30,000 feet above sea level, as result of the sluggish march the tectonic plates, slabs of solid rock that comprise our planet’s fractured outer shell. This plates continually jockey because that position, shaping the range of features visible at the surface. In some places, the plates traction apart, producing valleys in the land. In others, they collide, shoving mountains right into the sky.

Rising at the border of Tibet and Nepal, mount Everest created from a tectonic smashup in between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates 10s of countless years ago. The collision crumpled the landscape, raising hills along some 1,5000 miles, a range we recognize as the Himalaya. If mysteries remain around the an exact steps happening in this continental crash, the collision proceeds to this day, i beg your pardon is, in part, why Everest’s altitude is always changing. (Find out outcomes from the latest surveys because that the elevation of mountain Everest.)

The bear of a hill range

The story of the Himalaya begins some 200 million years ago, together the supercontinent of Pangea started to separation into pieces. The Indian plate eventually broke free, trekking northward toward the landmass us now recognize as Asia. The Indian bowl zipped follow me at surprisingly quick speeds, geologically speaking, shifting practically 30 feet or more each century.

At the time, the substantial Tethys s filled the gap in between India and also Eurasia, yet as India relocated northward, the ocean started to close. The bowl under the water, made of thick oceanic crust, hurry beneath the southerly edge of the more buoyant rocks that comprise the Eurasian continental plate, creating a feature known as a subduction zone. The slow slip of the oceanic slab into the mantle scraped a special layer that seafloor sediments into a heap at the edge of the Eurasian plate—and this sandy layer would later be squeezed into rock and end up on the like the mountain peaks. (See the summit the Everest and its neighboring peaks in 360 degrees.)

Around 50 million year ago, India’s rate precipitously declined, a change many scientists taken as the early on stages the the plate’s collision through Eurasia. Further proof from marine sediments argues the last swath of the Tethys s closed in between 50 and 60 million years ago.

Unlike one oceanic plate, i beg your pardon is cold and also dense, the Indian continent plate is thick and also buoyant. So, as the continent compressed and India shoved its way under Asia, the surface buckled and also the crust thickened to kind what would certainly eventually come to be the mighty Himalaya mountain range. Or, at least, that’s long been the embraced version that the story.

But together scientists continue to pore end every bend, crack, and also rock in this system, countless mysteries have actually arisen. Study of ancient magnetic trends in the rock permits researchers to chart a continent’s place over time, and recent job-related using this method revealed that once the mountain-forming collision supposedly took place, part 55 million years ago, India would have been strikingly far south indigenous Eurasia. That would leave a secret yawning gap between the 2 continents.

Did the Indian plate originally collide v a currently long-gone landmass the sat in between the two larger continental blocks? could the Indian plate’s northern edge have expanded much furthermore than previously thought? Why to be the Indian plate relocating so fast before impact? this are among the many questions researchers are still functioning out.


The view from Everest north Basecamp reflects the strategy to higher camps ~ above the means to the mountain"s summit.

Ever growing and shrinking

No matter when the started, though, the collision that developed Everest still continues today. India creeps northward a pair inches every year, and also scientists estimate that the ongoing impact with Eurasia can force the hills to ever greater heights, through an estimated average uplift of roughly 10 millimeters a year in the northwestern part of the range, and also around a millimeter a year at Everest. (Learn why it"s so difficult to measure up Everest.)

The expansion can occur in fits and starts, brought on by more violent move in the landscape. As India rams underneath Eurasia, it doesn’t constantly slide clear by. As soon as the floor compresses, press builds until it access time a break point. The block of planet can then all of sudden shift, rattling the floor in the jolt of an earthquake.

Yet the hill doesn’t necessarily obtain taller throughout earthquakes. Relying on exactly how and also where the floor shifts, temblors can reason the mountain to either thrive or shrink little amounts. This may have actually been the situation during the 2015 Nepal earthquake, according to satellite data.

At the same time, together the rocks proceed to rise toward the skies, erosion works versus their increase progression. Wind and also water scour away the surface, washing sediment into streams the race under the mountain’s flanks. In the Himalaya, lot of the sediment flushes with the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Sand drops the end of the water together the slope diminishes in ~ the mountains’ basic in what is the largest river delta in the world, making up the land that sits under most of Bangladesh and the Indian state that West Bengal.

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Even together erosion and also gravity store the mighty mountains in check, tectonic plates maintain their geologic dance, and Everest will proceed to follow their lead.