Newswise — Dr. Joseph A. DiPietro, associate professor of geology at the University of Southern Indiana, is one of a handful of American experts on the Himalayas of northern Pakistan, the world's most mountainous region. In seven trips to Pakistan, he has spent over 500 days in the region and up to three months at a time in remote mountain villages.
DiPietro did his doctoral research in the mountains of Pakistan, and in 1993 received a $225,000 National Science Foundation grant to continue his work there. The area of northern Pakistan where DiPietro worked had never before been studied in any detail.
The Himalayan Mountain system is probably the highest land mass to have existed in the history of the planet. Included within the Himalayan system are the Himalayan Mountains, the Tibetan Plateau, and the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir, Kunlun, and Tien Shan Mountains, all of which formed as a direct result of the collision of India with Asia.
India may have collided near what today is Pakistan, then rotated counter-clockwise and continued to push on Asia. Since collision began some 50 million years ago, India has advanced into Asia approximately 2500 kilometers (more than 1500 miles).
"In other words, the Indian and Asian continents have been shortened 2500 kilometers in what could be thought of as a slow motion head-on collision. This ongoing collision guarantees that there will be additional strong earthquakes in Pakistan and across the entire Himalayan Mountain system," he said.
Accompanied by a local guide and equipped with a hammer, chisel, altimeter, compass, knife, hydrochloric acid, notebook, maps, and a global positioning system, DiPietro extracted rock samples that could help explain the collision of India and Asia and the formation of the Himalayas. He was able to travel lightly because villagers provided food and a place to stay.
In his travels, he learned a great deal about Islamic and tribal culture and traditions, saw illegal opium fields and emerald mines, and had run-ins with the Taliban. He was the first person of European descent to visit some mountain villages.
DiPietro experienced several earthquakes when he was in the region. "There is nowhere in the Himalayas where you can be safe from an earthquake," he said. "There are always earthquakes there."
DiPietro earned the Ph.D. from Oregon State University, and he holds a master's degree from University of Vermont and bachelor's degree from University of Washington.