Which great civilization originated in the Andes?

The Andes Mountains were the seat of the ancient Incas. The Incan Empire was the largest empire in the Americas till 1532 AD. Between 1438 and 1532 the Incas had gained control over a large portion of western South America.

The civilization flourished till the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1532 AD, who wiped out the last true ruler of the Incas, Atahualpa.

The Incas were extraordinary people. Their main language was Quechua but they did not have a written script. Instead they recorded information by tying knots into coloured ropes called quipu. They accomplished great feats of engineering using unconventional methods.

They built magnificent cities such as Machu Picchu high in the mountains and constructed suspension bridges and roads that crossed steep mountain valleys.

Sadly, their unique civilization was destroyed by the Spanish who carried away their wealth and made the Incas their slaves.

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How are mountain folk different from lowlanders?

Mountain folk or people who live at altitudes of 300 m or more are generally a hardy lot. They have to adapt to the mountain environment, which is much more challenging than living in the plains or lowlands. To begin with the air is thinner in the mountains. The body needs to manufacture more red blood cells to make up for the lack of oxygen at high altitudes. Another drawback is that the soil is of poor quality on mountains. To top it all the weather is bitterly cold, and harsh.

To compensate for all this, mountain folk are usually tough and self-reliant, like the Highlanders of Scotland and the Quechuas of the Andes. Mountain folk like the Sherpas of Nepal are blessed with a modified genetic make-up that enables their bodies to use available oxygen more efficiently. Gurkhas, who originate from the mountainous region of Gorkha in Nepal, are among the fiercest soldiers in the world today. You could say that mountain folk are a cut above the rest!

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What is a seamount?

A seamount is an underwater mountain that rises from the ocean floor but does not reach the water’s surface. Most seamounts are volcanic in origin and are generally extinct. It is estimated that the Earth’s oceans contain more than 100,000 seamounts higher than 1,000 m.

During the course of their evolution and when they are in their eruptive phase, some seamounts may reach the sea surface due to the piling up of lava. However, wave action may erode the summit to form a flat surface. Such subsided, flat-topped seamounts are called ‘guyots’.

For a feature to be classified as a seamount, it must rise at least 1,000 m above the surrounding seafloor. Seamounts are found in every ocean basin on Earth. Because of their abundance seamounts are one of the most common marine eco-systems in the world.

In recent years their importance as biological hotspots has been recognized. Seamounts harbour an abundance of marine life from corals, sponges, sea anemones and fish to crustaceans such as crabs, barnacles, and lobsters.

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What makes Mauna Kea special?

Mauna Kea is the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands and the highest mountain on Earth. It rises to 4,205 m above sea level but if measured from its base under the sea to its top, its actual height is 10,211 m. This makes it taller than Mt. Everest which is 8,848 m!

Mauna Kea is around 1 million years old. It is a dormant volcano that last erupted around 4,500 years ago. The name ‘Mauna Kea’ means ‘white mountain’ in native Hawaiian language, thus named because in winter it often has snow at the summit.

One of the reasons Mauna Kea is special is that it is an important site for astronomy. Its summit hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory with telescopes operated from eleven countries! This is because conditions at the top of Mauna Kea are ideal for clear viewing of the skies. The atmosphere above the mountain is extremely dry and cloud-free. Another interesting feature of Mauna Kea is that it is the only volcano in the Hawaiian chain known to have been glaciated.

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What is the largest eruption in history?

The largest and most deadly eruption in recorded history was the 1815 explosion of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. It ranked 7, which is considered ‘super-colossal’ on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI).

The blast was one of the most powerful ever documented in human history and killed more than 100,000 people directly and indirectly. It was heard more than 1,930 kilometres away on Sumatra Island. Large tsunamis with wave heights of 10 m or more are believed to have occurred as a result of this explosion.

The ash from the eruption dispersed around the world, obscuring the sun and increasing the reflectivity of Earth. This lowered global temperatures and led to what is called a volcanic winter. As a result of this, the year 1816 is known as the year without a summer. It triggered famines in Europe. These gloomy conditions are often cited as reasons for the inspiration of horror tales like ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley.

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