please infodump 2 me, we've been having it rough lately and you sharing an interest might make our day :)
okay, so I was recently on vacation in the Appalachian mountains and I’ve kinda been thinking a lot about this
I visited Mt. Mitchell, which is the highest point in North America east of the Mississippi River, at an elevation of 6,684 feet.
(Here’s the view from the top.)
This is high enough that this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains has a unique kind of ecosystem similar to that found in eastern Canada, of fir, cedar, and spruce trees and many more cold-adapted species.
I love the Appalachians. The blue, undulating waves of mountains seem to melt straight into the sky in the distance. But they are not impressive in terms of height, not really. To someone used to the Rockies, Mt. Mitchell is more of a glorified hill than anything.
Where I live in Eastern Kentucky, the line between mountain and glorified hill blurs. The Appalachians shade from waves of mountains to steep rolling hills with scarcely a transition. They aren’t impressive, staggering peaks. You might even call them unremarkable.
You would be wrong.
The Appalachians are not high, but they are old. They are much, much older than the lofty snow-capped peaks of their more impressive relatives. They are so small because they have been worn down, for hundreds of millions of years, from a height that rivaled that of the Himalayas. In their youth, these soft, subtle curves on the misty horizon were Everests.
The Appalachians were created by a long string of geologic events, culminating in the collision of the African continent with the Eastern coast of what we now know as North America, 300 million years ago. And yes, in those days, that WAS the coast.
Where did all that land come from??
Well, remember what I said about millions of years of erosion? All the land east of this mountainous region…is made essentially from sediment worn off the Appalachian’s eons-old peaks. The entire East Coast is just leftover rubble, carried by erosion, from what was the Appalachian Mountains.
What is left…is old.
Much of Kentucky is sedimentary limestone, forming some of the best fossil beds in the world. The central area of the state was a shallow sea 450 million years ago, and well-preserved sponges, corals, bivalves, gastropods, bryozoans, crinoids, and even trilobites can be found here.
The reason there are no fish is that fish were not invented yet.
In order: Gastropod (snail) shell, a bryozoan (or ‘moss animal’ fragment, more bryozoans, another snail shell, and a shit ton of Strophomena bivalves.
I found all these just…in my back yard.
These are older than our pal Tyrannosaurus Rex, and by older I mean 6.5 times older, as in “the amount of time that separates humans from T. rex passed almost seven times from the time these little guys fossilized to now.”
Which makes it pretty terrifying that the rocks of the Appalachian mountains are much older than that.
At the center of the map above you’ll see the Blue Ridge mountains. This region, at the mountains’ heart, was first uplifted over one billion years ago.
When the Blue Ridge was young, multicellularity was an experiment. Seven hundred million years would pass before fish would try to crawl onto land. Go back to the time of the first dinosaur, when mammals hadn’t been dreamt of, then do that three more times, and that’s how old these mountains are.
Western North Carolina is known for its minerals, especially mica. There’s even a Micaville, North Carolina, and a Kona, named after the chemical composition of potassium feldspar. (Not recommended to visit. We got shot at. 0/10.) The stones there that contain this mineral are schist, a high-grade metamorphic rock, formed under the utmost heat and pressure. Today, they are exposed to the surface, billion-year-old secrets finally relinquished by these old mountains.
The Appalachians may be sanded down by time, but they remember when they towered over a world where life was a little slimy experiment. The dinosaurs rose and fell and they barely noticed. Humans plunder their mineral riches, dreaming of wealth and industry, but those things have no meaning on the geologic timescale.
From the peak of Mt. Mitchell, a large orange wound in the earth can be seen, a feldspar mine. Plaques and exhibits in the museum tell of how we cut down the trees and carved out the minerals, of our power to damage a fragile and ancient landscape.
It should matter to us. The world is our habitat, and we will have to live with the loss of what we destroy. But to the mountains?
Mass extinctions are followed by explosions of life. New organisms evolve to fill the niches left by those that disappear. It is a cycle that repeats again and again, a comforting rhythm.
Horror set in this environment often focuses on the perceived wrong humans do to their environment, plundering them, stripping them of resources. As if the horror of future climate disaster is retaliation, and not simply what we’ve wrought. The Appalachian Mountains are exploited by the greedy, but they don’t punish us. I don’t think they do. They’ve seen all this before, after all.
What can we take from them that matters, when they, as they finally wear down to smooth and rolling hills, will bury us as they have all the others, and not even stir from their sleep?
2K notes · View notes