Education, Environment, Latest News, Vaageesha Das

How do mountains form?

It seems a  main defining feature of West Virginia is its mountains. The highest point in West Virginia occurs at Spruce Mountain in Pendleton County. It is about 4,863 feet tall. Spruce Mountain is part of the Allegheny Mountains, a mountain range in the eastern part of West Virginia. And, West Virginia University’s mascot is a mountaineer.

West Virginia officially became a state on June 20, 1863. West Virginia used to be part of Virginia, but ended up breaking away from the state during the Civil War. 

Hopes of secession were occurring as early as the late 1820s because, like America before the American Revolution, West Virginia felt as though it was underrepresented in Virginia’s government and was overtaxed. More people lived in Virginia and people felt like the culture in West Virginia (where there were more farmers and less slaves) was vastly different than Virginia (where there were people who didn’t work as farmers and were generally richer than the farmers and had more slaves). There was also a natural barrier that separated West Virginia from Virginia: The Allegheny Mountains.

Mountains, in general, can form in three different ways. These methods have to do with tectonic plates, which are in the Earth’s crust.

Earth has four inner layers. The innermost layer of Earth is called the inner core. The inner core is this really hot, solid, metal ball that is made up of mostly nickel and iron. It is about three-fourths the size of the moon, and it spins faster than the rest of Earth. The temperature of the inner core is around 5400 degrees Celsius (9800 degrees Fahrenheit), which is almost as hot as the Sun.

The second layer is the outer core. This surrounds the inner core. The outer core is also made up of nickel and iron, but it is liquid. It is mostly heated by uranium and thorium’s radioactive decay (the process in which an unstable atom loses energy). The outer core churns in huge currents, which also generates Earth’s magnetic field. For reasons still unknown, this magnetic field reverses every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

The next layer is the mantle, which is the thickest layer. This layer is made up mostly of iron, magnesium and silicon. It is semi-solid and just like the outer core, it has currents but these currents circulate a lot more slowly. The mantle forms a layer of partially melted rock near the upper parts. This is the part that is believed to be what the tectonic plates slide across. Pieces of the mantle that can be touched are actually diamonds. The outermost area of the mantle is cool and rigid, similar to the crust. This specific mantle layer and the crust make up what is called the lithosphere.

The outermost layer is called the crust. This layer is extremely thin, especially when compared to the other three layers. The crust is made up of silica, aluminum and oxygen. The crust is broken up into random pieces — kind of like a puzzle — and this is what we call tectonic plates. Tectonic plates move at a rate of about 3 to 5 centimeters each year. We don’t know why tectonic plates move but when they slide against each other, things such as earthquakes happen, and volcanoes and mountains occur.

When two tectonic plates slide toward each other (like a head-on collision), and if both plates rise up, mountains are created. If one of the plates goes underneath the other, this causes magma to rise up with the mountain and a volcano (such as Mount Fuji or Mount Saint Helens) is created. And, if just one plate rises up, this creates a fault-block mountain range (Sierra Nevada in California is an example of a fault-block mountain range). If both plates go underneath, a valley is formed.

When I was in eighth grade, in our science class, we watched a documentary called “Mountaintop Removal,” directed by Michael O’Connell. This was an eye-opening documentary, and I really recommend it. Mountaintop removal is essentially removing the tops of mountains, up to 800 feet, and it is a form of surface coal mining. It is done because the coal found in mountains has less sulfur than coal found using normal surface coal mining techniques.

Mountaintop removal is very dangerous. The particles that come from removing mountaintops can cause black lung and other serious respiratory problems, because metals  mix in with the air. There are also many people living in areas around the places in which mountaintop removal occurs. The health effects that come from mountaintop removal are usually covered up by blaming the fact that most of these people live in poverty. Additionally, mountaintop removal contaminates the water, giving it a strange orange tinge.

If we are aware of mountaintop removal and its terrible effects, we can help to stop it.

Vaageesha Das is a sophomore at Morgantown High School.

Today’s information comes from:

Geiger, B. (2020, February 24). Explainer: Earth – layer by layer. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from;

How Are Mountains Made? (n.d.). Retrieved August 17, 2020, from;

Mountains Information and Facts. (2018, October 15). Retrieved August 17, 2020, from; Schiffman, R. (2017, November 21).

A Troubling Look at the Human Toll of Mountaintop Removal Mining. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from;

Top 5 West Virginia Mountains. (2017, July 18). Retrieved August 17, 2020, from;

Why is there a West Virginia? (2013, June 12). Retrieved August 17, 2020, from