How can moonshine be more than 150 pieces of evidence

Folded and reshaped - the creation of the Alps

Every year Munich and Venice come half a centimeter closer. It's not a lot, but it's measurable. The fact that the German and Italian cities are slowly moving closer together has to do with the formation of the Alps.

Compared to other mountains, the Alps are relatively young. Its story begins “only” around 250 million years ago when a shallow sea formed between the continents of Eurasia and Africa: the Tethys. Rock debris and remains of living things settle on the sea floor over a long period of time and turn into limestone.

About 100 million years ago, the African plate set out on a journey: It drifts north, pressing violently against the Eurasian continent. The rock is compressed by the pressure, it folds up in a wave-like manner. The individual folds can reach a few millimeters or hundreds of meters. In some places the folded layers slide over one another like roof tiles and form what are known as rock ceilings. Eventually magma also rises; at the moment when the African plate dips beneath the Eurasian plate. The rock is melted in the interior of the earth and rises upwards, but still cools below the surface of the earth. For this reason, the Central Alps consist of the igneous rock granite - in contrast to the limestone of the northern and southern Alps.

The folded area eventually rises above sea level under the great pressure. At first, the folds appear as elongated islands in the sea. But the archipelago is pressed further upwards and slowly pushes up to a high mountain range in which the rivers cut deep valleys. Large amounts of rubble are piled up in the foothills of the Alps. During the cold periods, huge glaciers carve deep trough valleys and steep mountain slopes into the rock. Only now is the typical high mountain landscape of the Alps forming, which attracts us to hiking or climbing in summer and skiing in winter.

To this day, the African plate is drifting north. That is why the Alps are still being lifted and compressed. This collapse is the reason that Venice and the entire area beyond the Alps move a tiny bit closer to us every year.


Drei Zinnen, Rosengarten and Geislerspitzen - the steep rock groups of the Dolomites rise mightily above the otherwise gently undulating landscape. Because of their "unique monumental beauty", the Dolomites have now been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Its peaks protrude into the sky like sharp teeth. Anyone visiting the Dolomites is walking across ancient coral reefs and scrambling across the history of the earth. Like the entire Alps, the Dolomites began to rise and unfold from the sea floor millions of years ago. Over time, wind and weather formed gentle slopes at the foot of their peaks. Today cows graze here in summer.

Thousands of tourists come every year to marvel at the fabulous landscape. Extreme climbers perform circus-ready tricks on the steep walls. The fairytale-like setting attracts not only hikers and mountaineers, but also celebrities: Hollywood stars like George Clooney and Tom Cruise have already stayed here. And Reinhold Messner, himself born in Bressanone, began his career as an extreme climber on the walls of the Dolomites.

The World Heritage Committee was also impressed by the grandiose nature: On June 26th, parts of the Dolomites were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This means that the Dolomites are now under special protection.

How the “pale mountains” became the Dolomites

The Dolomites are also called “pale mountains” because of their color. The Ladins, the oldest inhabitants of the area, tell each other many stories about their mysterious mountains: There is talk of the dwarf king Laurin and his enchanted rose garden and of a dwarf people who have woven the peaks with threads of moonlight. This mountainous landscape has always stimulated the imagination.

The French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu, on the other hand, looked at their light-colored rocks more soberly. Upon closer inspection, he found that they were not made of pure limestone, as suspected. The salt magnesium oxide also had a large share. The newly discovered rock of the mountain range was named after its discoverer, Dolomieu: the dolomite. And the “pale mountains” turned - simsalabim - into the Dolomites.


Switzerland celebrates the breakthrough of its new record holder with great jubilation: on October 15, 2010 at 2:18 p.m., the last centimeters of rock of the planned Gotthard base tunnel were breached. The 57 kilometer long tube leads deep through the rock of the Swiss Gotthard massif. As soon as the tunnel is finished, it should cut the travel time through the Alps by almost an hour.

Huge drill heads with a diameter of almost 10 meters have dug the tunnel into the mountain from two sides, which at 57 kilometers will be the longest in the world. Its northern entrance is in Erstfeld in the canton of Uri, its southern portal in Bodio in the canton of Ticino. Up to two and a half kilometers of rock weigh on it. When the tunnel is opened to traffic in 2017, it will have cost a good nine billion euros.

What makes the construction work difficult again and again: Different types of rock lie close together, from hard granite to soft slate. On March 31, 1996, the catastrophe struck a tunnel: Thousands of cubic meters of softened rock shot from a borehole into the exploratory tunnel and flooded it. Six workers who were nearby were incredibly lucky: they survived without injuries.

The aim of the record tunnel is that in the future fewer trucks will drive across the Alps and more goods will be transported by train. Because the train tunnel reduces the travel time between Zurich and Milan by around an hour. And because traffic across the Alps continues to increase, the next projects are already being planned: a 53-kilometer tunnel is to be built at Mont-Cenis between France and Italy, and another 55-kilometer-long tunnel on the Brenner Pass in Austria.

Tunnel records

The longest railway tunnel in the world to date is located in northern Japan: with a length of almost 54 kilometers, the Seikan tunnel connects the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. Half of the route is under the sea. The third longest tunnel is also under water: trains run between England and France through the almost 50 kilometers long Eurotunnel under the English Channel. The world's longest road tunnel is currently the Lærdals tunnel in Norway with a length of 24.5 kilometers. It is particularly colorfully illuminated so that drivers do not get tired when driving through it.


During a meeting of the Geological Society in Frankfurt, the meteorologist and polar researcher Alfred Wegener put forward a daring theory: In his opinion, the continents move on earth. Colleagues in geology are skeptical or even negative.

If Alfred Wegener had claimed that the earth was flat, he would hardly have caused astonishment among his listeners. According to Wegener, all the continents of our earth are supposed to have been united into a single land mass a long time ago. He calls this supercontinent Pangea, which moved on the Earth's mantle and split into two parts 200 million years ago. These two continents are said to have further divided and shifted. There are clear indications of the breaking up and movement of the continents: They fit together like pieces of a puzzle. It is also noticeable that the same animal species occur on different continents.

So Africa and South America should have been one? To the professional world, Wegener's speech sounds as believable as a fairy tale from the Arabian Nights. One is still convinced to this day that the earth's crust is firmly connected to its subsurface. As far as we know, the continents are fixed and were once connected to each other by land bridges. Many geologists still disparagingly refer to Wegener's continental drift as the “geopoetry of a weather frog”. The main thing that remains unclear is the motor of movement: what drives the continents? But research can no longer ignore Alfred Wegener's theory. Can it also be proven?

Alfred Wegener - a Luftikus?

The meteorologist Alfred Wegener became famous for a record he set in balloon flight: On April 5, 1906, he ascended with his brother Kurt and stayed in the air for over 52 hours. This exceeded the previous world record by 17 hours. But the balloon flight not only served for fame, but above all for science: The Wegener brothers wanted to explore the atmosphere and test methods of location determination. Alfred Wegener's interest is not only in the weather and aviation, but also in the eternal ice. In the year of his world record, he set out to explore Greenland. He returned from this Greenland expedition in 1908. Since then, the 32-year-old scientist has been a lecturer in meteorology, astronomy and physics at the University of Marburg.


It is the mightiest of all Alpine glaciers: the Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps is over 23 kilometers in length. Its ice cover is up to 900 meters thick. Still! Because the white splendor of the glaciers could soon be history.

For decades, researchers have observed that the ice masses are decreasing. They lose an average of half a meter in thickness every year. Climate change is to blame, which is causing temperatures on earth to rise: in the ever warmer summers, more ice melts than is added again in the cold season. The ice giant was particularly troubled by the hot summer of 2003: At that time, large parts of the glaciers had melted away. It is now even feared that the Alpine glaciers could have disappeared in 30 years.

That would be a great loss for the landscape of the Alps - and a catastrophe for tourism: many winter sports locations make their living from ski areas on glaciers. When the ice and snow melt, tourists stay away too. In addition, there will be problems with the water supply when the glaciers die. Because huge amounts of fresh water are stored in their ice masses. Many places would then have to transport their drinking water expensively and from far away.

Cling film for glaciers

To protect their glaciers from rising temperatures, the Austrians have come up with something: they cover their glaciers with plastic cling film in summer. The almost four millimeter thick, white film is supposed to reflect the sun's rays and thus prevent ice and snow from melting. And indeed: Glacier researchers confirm that the film greatly reduces melting.

Glacier foils are now also being used in Switzerland and Germany. The Zugspitze now also gets a “sun hat” on a regular basis. Climate activists criticize that while this slows the melting of the ice for some time, global warming cannot be stopped in this way.

Where plates collide

When two vehicles collide, their sheet metal is crumpled together. Something similar happens when two plates of the earth's crust collide. Then their rock is pushed together and very slowly laid into huge folds - this is how fold mountains arise. What the crumple zone is in a car accident, the mountains are in a collision of plates - only that a car accident takes place in fractions of a second, whereas a plate collision takes many millions of years.

This is exactly how the Alps came into being: Africa pressed against the Eurasian continent and unfolded the mountains. The Himalayas in Asia and the Andes in South America also owe their origins to the collision of migrating crustal plates.

In such a crash, the rock of the lighter plate is pushed upwards and the heavier plate sinks into the depths. This process is called subduction, the area in which the plate descends, the subduction zone. There are often deep gullies along these zones, which is why they are easy to see. The deepest of them is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. This deep-sea channel lies where the Pacific plate dips under the Philippine one.

The further the earth's crustal plate disappears in the interior of the earth, the hotter it gets. The rock melts and magma forms in the depths. Due to the increasing pressure, it can be pressed up again. Where it penetrates to the surface of the earth, volcanoes spit lava and ash. There are whole chains of such volcanoes around the Pacific Plate, for example in Indonesia. Because one volcano follows the other, this plate boundary is also called the “Pacific Ring of Fire”.

Not only do volcanoes erupt at such plate edges. The earth also frequently shakes because the movement of the plates creates tremendous pressure and increasing tensions. As soon as these discharge, quakes shake the earth's surface. In Japan, for example, three plates meet: the Pacific, the Filipino and the Eurasian. It is for this reason that violent earthquakes hit Japan so often.

How do mussels and corals get to the Alps?

The Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, is nothing more than a petrified reef. Whoever climbs it hikes over ancient coral remnants. Fossils such as fossilized giant clams and ammonites can be found on the Dachstein in Austria or in the Dolomites. But how did these remnants of marine animals get to the highest peaks in the Alps?

Today's Alps have lifted themselves out of a shallow sea, the Tethys Sea. About 200 million years ago this sea penetrated north and covered parts of southern Germany. At that time there was a tropical climate here, it was much warmer than it is now. Today the area would probably be a vacation paradise like the Maldives. At that time, however, no people lived here. Instead, in addition to ichthyosaurs, mussels, ammonites and corals romped about in the warm sea water. Their shells and armor were made of lime and were deposited on the seabed after their death. Together with removed rock rubble, they formed a layer that became thicker and thicker over millions of years. The thick layers of limestone were pressed into solid sedimentary rock by means of heat and pressure.

The African plate began moving north about a hundred million years ago. She pressed hard on the Eurasian plate. Due to this force, the sea floor unfolded and was pushed higher and higher. The Alps gradually rose from the bottom of the sea until they finally towered over the surroundings by thousands of meters. The reef remnants and limestone layers from the sea floor became the northern and southern limestone Alps. In the north they build up the Wetterstein limestone of the Zugspitze or the Dachstein limestone in Austria. In the southern Limestone Alps, the steep rocks of the Dolomites consist of ancient reefs. There, mountaineers and fossil hunters can still find countless ammonites and other fossilized marine animals in the limestone. The Central Alps, on the other hand, consist of granite - a result of the plate collision.

Mountains in motion

Mountains rise up mighty and rigid. It seems as if nothing and nobody can move them. But that's not true: mountains are constantly in motion - albeit so slowly that we cannot see the change with the naked eye.

The reason for this: the plates of the earth's crust move. And when two of these plates collide, the rock is compressed, pushed and piled up. Similar to a car accident, mountains fold up at the edges of the slab on impact. Mountains and valleys are thus a “crumple zone” of the slabs colliding. However, this does not happen suddenly like in a car accident, but much more slowly than in slow motion. The result is fold mountains like the Andes in South America. There the oceanic Nazca plate slides under the South American plate and squeezes the rock with incredible force. The elongated mountains of the Andes piles up, stretching over a distance of 7,500 kilometers. The Andes are the longest unearthly mountain range in the world.

However, there are also huge mountains below sea level. They pull themselves through the middle of the oceans. They, too, owe their existence to the movable plates. Where two plates move away from each other on the ocean floor, magma penetrates from the mantle through the oceanic crust. The hot rock slurry cools on the sea floor and piles up to form mountains that are thousands of meters long: the mid-ocean ridges. Where the lava reaches sea level and swells beyond it, islands like Iceland arise. These mountains, which are born in the sea, are the longest on earth. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge stretches from north to south through the entire Atlantic - about 20,000 kilometers long.

A constant race: uplift versus erosion

The Matterhorn or Mont Blanc would actually be over 12,000 meters high today - if wind and weather hadn't constantly attacked them. Because while the mountains are raised by forces in the earth's interior, they also shrink again at the same time: their rock is washed out and sanded off by water, wind and frost. In the case of the Alps, uplift and erosion are currently in balance. They stay about the same height.

Unlike the Alps, the Himalayas grow about one centimeter in height every year.In this region, the Indian plate presses against the Eurasian plate and raises the Himalayas further - so much that the erosion cannot keep up.

But there are also mountains where the unfolding has come to an end - they only shrink. These mountains were formed over 300 million years ago, so they are much older than the Alps or the Himalayas. Many of our low mountain ranges belong to them, for example the Rhenish Slate Mountains or the Bavarian Forest. They were abraded over millions of years and are now lower than 2000 meters.

The "race" between growth and shrinkage can also be observed in volcanic mountains: extinct volcanoes are constantly losing height. The Kaiserstuhl on the eastern bank of the Rhine, for example, is badly weathered. Today only ruins are left of the former volcano. Etna in Sicily, Europe's most active volcano, on the other hand, can suddenly grow a few meters in the event of an eruption. However, it occasionally loses height again when the cold lava collapses.

High and low mountain ranges

The Feldberg in the Black Forest is particularly popular with winter sports enthusiasts. Because of its height of 1493 meters, it is easy to ski here. But the Black Forest, although it has high mountains, is one of the German low mountain ranges. The Alps, on the other hand, are high mountains. But what is the difference between low and high mountains?

The simplest answer is obvious: they differ in their height. High mountains start at 1500 - some say 2000 - meters above sea level. So there are mountains whose peaks protrude far above the tree line. Another typical feature of high mountains is that they are formed by glaciers and have steep mountain walls.

Low mountain ranges, on the other hand, have neither glaciers nor steep slopes. Your landscape is rather hilly and rounded. This is due to the fact that it was created much further back than that of the Alps. Originally, they too were piled high in the mountains - more than 300 million years ago. But unlike in the Alps, there has been no uplift in the low mountain ranges for a long time. They are only removed and their shapes are rounded. Some of them are already so badly weathered and worn that only the trunk remains of the former high mountains: the trunk mountains. These include, for example, the Ore Mountains and the Fichtel Mountains.

During their long history, the low mountain ranges have been constantly redesigned. Even the unfolding of the Alps did not leave them without a trace. The forces of the clashing plates put the old hulls of the low mountain range under a lot of pressure. Because of its old age, however, the rock had become so firm and rigid that it could not be folded any further. Instead, like a gigantic sheet of ice, it shattered into huge clods. Some sank, others began to rise. Sinking clods became deep trenches, rising clods developed into high plateaus. The landscape that emerged from it are broken clod mountains like the Harz. Its highest mountain, the Brocken, is 1141 meters high. That is not enough for the high mountains, so that the Harz clearly belongs to the low mountain ranges.

Mountain climate and altitude levels in the Alps

It can even snow on the Zugspitze in June and July. And not only there: On some alpine glaciers, skiing is possible in summer, even if there is bathing weather down in the valley. But why is it that there is a completely different climate just a few kilometers away from each other?

As the altitude increases, the temperature drops by around 6 degrees Celsius per 1000 meters of altitude. It is possible that on the Zugspitze at 2,962 meters above sea level, only -1 ° C is measured. At the same time in Munich, at an altitude of 519 meters, the thermometer rises to 14 ° C. In mountain regions, because of the high altitude, it is much colder than in lower regions of the same latitude. And something else changes with altitude, namely the rainfall. Because cold air can store less moisture than warm air, it rains or snows more above than below. Even in the tropics, there is therefore snow on high mountains such as the Andes or Kilimanjaro.

Depending on the falling temperatures and increasing precipitation, the type of vegetation also changes. In the mountains, different vegetation zones, called altitude levels, are formed in a small space. In some cases, the boundaries of these altitude levels can be clearly seen, for example the tree or snow line.

In the Alps and other high mountains of the moderate latitudes, the altitude levels begin with the so-called hill country level, in which agriculture is still practiced. The mountain step with mixed and coniferous forests follows in the direction of the summit. Above the tree line, only various dwarf shrubs and meadows thrive, which in summer are often used as pastures for alpine farming. Above the snow line there is no vegetation at all because cold, snow and ice prevent plant growth.

Mountains also have such altitudes in other climatic zones. However, other plant communities thrive there and the altitude levels are shifted: the snow line in the tropics is much higher than in the Alps, for example.