University of Leicester eBulletin

What Lies Beneath

February 2003
No 60

The latest technology will be used to explore the history of the Earth 400 million years ago at a University of Leicester public lecture.

Geologists will use computer models as well as field examples to demonstrate that mountains have enormous roots – extending 50 miles below the Earth’s crust.

In the 44th Bennett Lecture at the University of Leicester,  Professor Paul Ryan of the University of Galway, Ireland,  will examine what is happening under mountains. The lecture entitled What Happens Beneath Mountains… takes place on Wednesday, 5 March 2003.

The lecture is free, open to the public and will be held at 5.00pm in Bennett Lecture Theatre 2, Bennett Building, University of Leicester. The Bennett Lecture is an annual public lecture organised by the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester in honour of Dr F W Bennett, one of the founders of the University.

Professor Richard Aldridge, Head of the Department of Geology, said: “The part of mountains we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Due to tectonic plate movement, mountains build deep roots that extend down into the mantle of the Earth -sometimes down to a depth of 50 miles (90 km).  Such depths can only be achieved in either a subducting continent or at the base of an ‘orogenic root’. Those roots sometimes are exhumed by erosion and uplift so they can be examined at the surface.”

In his lecture Professor Ryan will address modern thinking on the fundamental processes that drive this system. Using computer models and field examples from over 400 million year old Caledonian mountains of Norway Professor Ryan will prove that some orogens develop enormous roots.

“Professor Paul Ryan’s research improves our understanding of the geology of mountain ranges and this knowledge will be useful in fields like mineral exploration, refining past climate models and earthquake studies. Most importantly, it helps geologists to find out more about how our planet Earth works,” said Professor Aldridge.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Further information is available from Professor Richard Aldridge, Department of Geology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, telephone 0116 252 3610, email

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