Vast hollow chamber within iconic Swiss mountain worries geologists

April 1, 2014, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Vast hollow chamber within iconic Swiss mountain worries geologists
Credit: Creative Commons

The Matterhorn's days are numbered. Although populations are not in danger, scientists warn that its predicted collapse could occur at any moment.

Geologists have found evidence of a vast hollow chamber at the heart of the Matterhorn. Using triple-woven spectroscopic probes, they discovered and then re-created in three dimensions the enormous hollow chamber in the deep interior of the mountain. They measured the superficial rocky external layer, which has an average depth of 15 meters, and mapped with precision several superficial fracture lines. The mountain is dangerously unstable, they say. But they add that surrounding populations have nothing to worry about, because due to its world-famous pyramidal shape, the Matterhorn will simply collapse in upon itself without generating dangerous rockslides along its flanks. The discovery was recently published in the journal Nature Apocalypses.

"The issue is not if it will collapse, but when. It could happen in a thousand years, or it could happen next week," warns study author Jean-Manu Torthézy. "The population has, in principle, nothing to worry about. But they could get a rude shock some morning when they wake up!" Because instead of the glorious and iconic symbol of the Swiss Alps on the horizon, the inhabitants of Zermatt would wake up to a smooth mountain pasture above the village. "According to our computer models of the Matterhorn, it should fall from its current height of 4,478 meters to a rounded dome of only 2,120 meters."

All mountains eventually disappear, the geologist reminds us. But normally this occurs over millions of years as part of a slow process of erosion. "In the very unusual case of the Matterhorn, it will be a little quicker and certainly a lot louder!"

Local herders were the first to raise the alarm that something was amiss. The crevices that open into the mountain's inner chamber are deadly traps for the animals grazing the alpine pastures. "Goatherds are familiar with them and have been passing down their location for generations, but lately new fissures have appeared and others that were barely wide enough for a ballpoint pen are now large enough to swallow a cow," says Torthézy.

The Federal Office of Hiking Tourism (FOTP) has already begun preparing for post-Matterhorn reality. In discussion with the country's primary postcard producers, they are trying to find the best viewpoint for promoting the international image of the Valais ski resort, says FOTP director Stefan Müller. Hopefully this will help compensate for the inevitable hit that the tourist business will suffer.

Explore further: Tectonic stress feedback loop explains U-shaped glacial valleys

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Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (9) Apr 01, 2014
This story will collapse by the end of today, April 1.
5 / 5 (5) Apr 01, 2014
What will become of the Disneyland ride?
1.6 / 5 (21) Apr 01, 2014 mention of AGW as the reason for the degradation.

Apparently the author is not on the take.
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 01, 2014 mention of AGW as the reason for the degradation.

Apparently the author is not on the take.

Hmmm, no mention of the spotted owl either! Apparently you don't have to worry about losing money this time Scooter!
5 / 5 (11) Apr 01, 2014
Something has eaten all the chocolate out of the center.
4.4 / 5 (7) Apr 01, 2014
Something has eaten all the chocolate out of the center.
Spotted owls?
1.3 / 5 (15) Apr 01, 2014
"Nature Apocalypses" -- sounds like "Nature Climate Change".
3 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2014
April fool joke again! No mountain loses 6000 feet in a single event unless it was like Krakatoa, a pyroclastic volcano. No lava tube is really large in relation to the mountain in which it occurs, and the Matterhorn is not a volcano. At 45 feet thick the supposed shell is thinner in relation to the structure than an eggshell!! How about the artillery that shoots potential the guys will be gun shy?? of bringing the mountain on them??!! Story is so bad it is laughable as much as it is structurally impossible. Maybe he could also say that the resultant 'hill' would really be a deeeep hole that will suck the neighboring mountain towns, Zermatt included, into it. Maybe also say the local breweries will get sucked to......the resultant being a giant beer fart?
4 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2014
More interesting still would be some imaging of this cavity, along with some kind of expalanation for its exitence. As far as I know, the Matterhorn is primarily composed of Gneisses and Schists, which are resistant to erosion, and would weather out in planar fashion, rather thasn in the omnidirectional fashion which this article implies is the case.

Why hasn't anyone been inside to have a look?
3.2 / 5 (9) Apr 01, 2014
This is the result of all that freeking yodeling. I think the mountain must be saved! Engineers can do anything. They fixed the leaning tower of pizza didnt they? Maybe we can fill it full of chocolate.
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2014
A quick search revealed that I was entirely wrong about the geology.
Almost entirely composed of sedimentary and oopholitic, basalt seafloor. This would go a long way towards explaining how such a cavity could form.

But still --no mention of this cavity could I find anywhere.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2014
"More interesting still would be some imaging of this cavity..."

3 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2014
I heard the same thing is happening to the Pyramids of Giza. It's expected that the top half will collapse and leave Egypt with an arrangement of four smaller pyramids. And with little pushes by a handful of people, they could turn it into something like a paper fortune teller.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2014
Throw a stick of dynamite in there before it swallows more cows!!!
5 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2014
We have to create a NGO for the preservation and sustainability of Mt. Matterhorn...
1 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2014
LOL. Nice April Fool's gag. By "coincidence," the author credited for the EFPL article is named "April Fisher."

I particularly liked "Nature Apocalypses."

5 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2014
Nature Apocalypses

Yeah. That sort of gave it away.

(And as you might notice from the image: There's no way anyone would herd anything up there.)
5 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2014
Why hasn't anyone been inside to have a look?

Professor Otto Lidenbrock explored a similar cavity in Iceland in 1864. He reported a vast cave system that went on for miles, but it was eventually flooded with sea water.

triple-woven spectroscopic probes

The next loonar mission should include these.
The Shootist
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 02, 2014 mention of AGW as the reason for the degradation.

Apparently the author is not on the take.

+1 astute.
3.5 / 5 (8) Apr 02, 2014
the greasy oil whores are out pandering again on here...

erosion is imagination...riiiight

so, acid rain is not dissolving the antiquities of egypt and rome because..."man cannot effect the environment"...riiiight

is the flying spaghetti monster eroding them, again? silly monster!
5 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2014
GSwift7, I assume you are referring to the expedition later publicized by J. Verne? :-)
5 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2014
GSwift7, I assume you are referring to the expedition later publicized by J. Verne? :-)

Yes, that's the one. Verne was the one who published the findings on the geology, flora and fauna discovered by the expedition. :)

I was starting to think that nobody would get it.
3 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2014
I'm glad the investigators were able to avoid the bobsleds.
1.3 / 5 (3) Apr 06, 2014
Enuf of the humor, time to jerk this farce of a story.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2014
OK, I bit. Took me in like a fish. DOH!

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