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Science
MOUNTAINS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
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Did the growth of the Himalayas help the evolution of humankind?
Wednesday 28 May 2003 9.00-9.30pm

“Because it was there” is the well-rehearsed answer George Mallory gave for climbing Everest and evidence is growing that the very existence of humanity could be due to the same reason.

Everest
Everest

Certainly our ape-like ancestors in the deep past evolved when the world’s climate started to cool, and the African continent started to dry out. The loss of rain forest and spread of savannah appears to have been the evolutionary driving force. But these changes coincide with great geological events.

Around forty million years ago, the subcontinent of India started to crash into Asia, creating the enormous crumple zone that is now the Himalayas. The collision is not yet over: the devastating earthquake in Gujurat two years ago is a product of the continued slow-motion impact. The suggestion is that as the mountains rose, they changed the climate, by diverting the patterns of atmospheric circulation, and drawing down the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide through erosion – there’s more Himalayan material in the North Indian plains and at the bottom of the Indian Sea than in the mountains themselves. The idea is a neat one – that these mountains changed the world. But not all scientists believe it.

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