New additions to the Global Geoparks

The Nördlinger Ries is almost circular and has a diameter of about 20-24 kilometers. The outer rim of the crater forms a wooded chain of hills around the crater floor, in which there are no large elevations, in contrast to the adjacent Alb landscape. Only in 1960 was it shown that these were the remains of an impact crater about 14.6 million years old. © Marco Kleebauer

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The Nördlinger Ries is almost circular and has a diameter of about 20-24 kilometers. The outer rim of the crater forms a wooded chain of hills around the crater floor, in which there are no large elevations, in contrast to the adjacent Alb landscape. Only in 1960 was it shown that these were the remains of an impact crater about 14.6 million years old. © Marco Kleebauer

World Geological Heritage: In April 2022, UNESCO named eight new Global Geoparks: two in South America, six in Europe. Among them is the Nördlinger Ries, the region of southern Germany where an asteroid struck about 15 million years ago. The Ries crater is the best preserved impact structure in Europe and therefore of exceptional geological importance. Other new geoparks are found in Brazil, Scandinavia, Luxembourg, Greece and Romania.

In addition to the World Cultural Heritage and the Natural Heritage of Humanity, since 2015 UNESCO has also distinguished areas and landscapes of exceptional geological importance on an international level. Similar to National Geoparks, these World Heritage Sites are designated Global Geoparks. The aim is to support the protection and promotion of these sites and also to highlight their importance beyond geology.

At this year’s meeting, UNESCO’s Committee of Geoparks nominated eight new global Geoparks. Two of the new additions are in Brazil and six in Europe. This brings the number of these geological World Heritage sites to a total of 177. Together they cover an area of ​​approximately 370,600 square kilometers, roughly the size of Japan. “The sites of this network of geoparks represent a unique geological diversity that also reflects cultural and biological diversity,” according to UNESCO.

Nördlinger Ries: unique impact relic

The Nördlinger Ries in southern Germany is also one of the new Global Geoparks. The Ries crater was formed when an asteroid about one kilometer large struck it about 15 million years ago. The impact left Europe’s best-preserved and best-studied meteor crater, even astronauts from the Apollo moon missions trained there. In the Ries and its surroundings, you can explore how such an impact changes the landscape, what it leaves behind and how nature reacts to it.

Even today, studies continue to provide new details on how the impact occurred and what consequences it had. As a result, the rocky rain from the impact arrived in the Alps, about 180 kilometers south of the crater. In 2017, researchers also identified a new impact mineral in Ries crater, riesite. More recent analyzes also suggest that the Steinheim basin west of the Ries crater may not have formed at the same time as the Nördlinger Ris.

In Germany, seven national Geoparks have already been awarded the UNESCO Geopark seal, including the Harz Mountains, the Swabian Jura, the Vulkaneifel, the Muskau Arch on the border with Poland and the Drei Gleichen in Thuringia. Now an eighth is added with the Nördlinger Ries.

Table Mountains and Ice Age dams

Two other new Global Geoparks are located in Scandinavia. The first is the area called Platåbergens on the southern shore of Lake Vänern in western Sweden. Here, ice age glaciers and the erosion that has occurred since have left 15 flat-topped mesa, a rare phenomenon in Europe. The park also includes the gently hilly, lake-rich Västgöta plain, whose long history of settlement is evidenced by Stone Age megalithic tombs and Viking churches.

In southern Finland, UNESCO added the Salpausselkä Geopark to its list. This area of ​​forest and water stretches over 600 kilometers and includes hundreds of lakes, which are interspersed with sedimentary walls formed by ice age glaciers. These were created when the ice masses of the last ice age retreated and huge streams of meltwater swept through the landscape.

Sandstone canyons, karst islands and salt caves

Another new addition to the Global Geoparks is the Mëllerdall in Luxembourg. This area is in the center of a basin that stretches from Paris to the Rhineland and is shaped by layers of primeval sandstone. In Luxembourg, these sandstone formations are up to 100 meters thick and form one of the most spectacular rocky and gorge landscapes in Western Europe. Rock strata formed about 200 million years ago when sediments settled on the bottom of a shallow sea.

In Greece, the island region of Kefalonia-Ithaca has been designated a Global Geopark. Mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, these two islands are characterized by a karst landscape where water erosion has carved underground caves, sinkholes and rivers in the limestone. Both islands are also part of a tectonic arc formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian plates. The area is therefore the most tectonically active region in Europe.

The sixth new UNESCO Geopark is located in the Romanian Carpathians, a mountain range formed by the collision of several tectonic plates. The complex movements of the subsoil have unearthed primeval sea beds north of Bucharest in the Carpathian arc, but they have also preserved countless unique fossils in amber. In the Carpathians you will also find some of the deepest and longest salt caves on earth, as well as mud volcanoes and the “Living Fire” (Romanian “Focul Viu”). The last two phenomena are due to the gases rising from the ground there.

“White Forest” and huge gorges

The last two new Global Geoparks are in South America. One of these is the Serido in northeastern Brazil. In this landscape, 600 million years of earth’s history are preserved in the form of rock formations and volcanic basalts. According to UNESCO, the “White Forest” – Caatinga – also represents a unique biome in the world. The second new geopark is located in southern Brazil in the Atlantic rainforest area. The Caminhos dos Cânions do Sul are home to some of the most impressive canyons in South America, as well as fossil sites of ancient megafauna and relics of pre-Columbian cultures.

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