09.09.2013 - UNESCOPRESS

Ten sites in nine countries added to Global Geoparks Network

© UNESCO/Jacques CharvetKarawanke/Karawanken Global Geopark (Slovenia/Austria)

The Global Geoparks Network now covers nine new members, with the addition of sites in Austria, China, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Turkey and Uruguay. The new sites bring the total number of Geoparks in the Network to 100, located in 29 countries. They were inscribed during the 3rd Asia-Pacific Geoparks Network Jeju Symposium, which took place on Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, from 7 to 13 September.

The Global Geoparks Network links geological heritage sites of international importance, rarity or beauty that serve to promote sustainable development for local communities. The Network was created with UNESCO’s support in 2004 to encourage cooperation between geological heritage experts and practitioners. It also seeks to promote awareness of geological hazards and disaster mitigation strategies, climate change and the need to manage our natural resources sustainably.Sites given the Geopark label possess an effective management structure and clearly defined boundaries. They cover a sufficiently large area to permit significant sustainable economic development, primarily through tourism. The Global Geopark brand is a voluntary quality label and UNESCO offers support to sites that are part of the Network on an ad-hoc basis following requests from UNESCO Member States.

The new sites are:

Sennongjia Globa Geopark (People’s Republic of China)

The Geopark is a mountainous region located in the northwestern part of Hubei Province. Its name originates from Shennong, the legendary ancestor of today’s Chinese people, who is said to have learned the use the plough and medicinal plants. Known as the "Roof of Central China," the Shennongjia area features six mountains surpassing 3,000m, most of which are composed of intrusive diabase rocks. The Geopark has three major landforms: peaks, glaciers and karst. Its heritage includes fossils of ancient animals, peculiar geological landforms, beautiful water scenery and the relics of ancient geological disasters. In 1995, relics of ancient Pleistocene human beings were found in a cave 2,100 metres above sea level near Hongping. More than 1,000 pieces of stoneware and ancient fossils, including rhinoceros, pandas and elephants, were unearthed in the cave and are of great significance to archaeological research.

Yanqing Global Geopark (People’s Republic of China)

This Geopark is located northwest of Beijing, in the western part of the Yanshanian Mountains. A characteristic mountain building process during the Mesozoic time gave birth to this magnificent landscape and lent its name to the Geopark creating its picturesque landforms of vertical strata, fractures, huge domes and large-scale anticlines unlike any mountainous area in Europe, America or Africa. The site’s rich geoheritage includes silicified wood and late Jurassic dinosaur footprints. The Geopark has a rich cultural history, testifying to human activity over some 40 to 50 thousand years, through stone tools and other cultural relics. The intrusive rocks in the Geopark served ancient humans who dug their homes in the granite, which can be visited today in the exceptional ancient cliff-dwelling site of Guyaju. The fascinating housing complex has more than 110 stone rooms carved into the rock, and is the largest cliff residence ever discovered in China.

Sesia - Val Grande Global Geopark (Italy)

This Geopark in the northeast of the Piemonte Region stretches over two neighboring Alpine valleys, Sesia and Val Grande and includes the two sacred sites of Sacre Monte of Varallo and Sanctuary of Ghiffa which both belong to the nine Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy, included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Its geology is connected to Alpine tectonics with outcrops used for hiking tours through the Earth’s crust, including, for example, a journey from the deep crust to the collapsed caldera of a fossilized supervolcano with its 25 km-deep magmatic plumbing system. The Geopark provides one of the most spectacular sections through rocks of lower crustal origin lifted by mountain building processes. Two important rocks are of special interest: the pink marble in Ossola, used to build the Cathedral of Milan in the 14th century, and soap stone which has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. The villages in Val Sesia are important for the history of the Walser people who migrated to the region between the 12th and 13th century from what is now the German-speaking part of the canton of Valais (Wallis) in Switzerland.

Oki Islands Global Geopark (Japan)

The Oki Islands Global Geopark is situated off the west coast of Honshu, the main island of Japan. The basement of the Oki Islands is a fragment of the Eurasian continent, left behind during the formation of the back-arc basin that eventually led to the creation of the Japanese islands, and was later overprinted by violent volcanic activity. This process and combination of activity is highly unusual. The Oki basement gneisses contain evidence of their continental origin, and the extensive alkali volcanic rocks present here are extremely rare elsewhere in the Japanese arc. Coastal erosion of rock faces has created stunning scenery that features numerous sea caverns and steep cliff-lined coastlines. The flora and fauna that make up the natural landscape of these islands is truly special. The influx of sub-boreal (subalpine) zone vegetation that occurred during the coldest stage of the last Ice Age can still be seen today, mingled with warm-temperate (basal) zone vegetation.

Hondsrug Global Geopark (the Netherlands)

The first Geopark in the Netherlands is located in the eastern part of the province of Drenthe. The Hondsrug is a small ridge left over in a landscape that was overrun by ice, creating what is usually known as the typically flat ‘Netherlands’. The Hondsrug is a unique remnant of a Late Saalian, glacial lineation; a complex of megaflutes covered by till. Glacial melt water formed ridges and valleys underneath the ice sheet, still clearly visible in the landscape. These geomorphological structures are unique in the Europe-Asian Pleistocene landscape. Huge numbers of erratics—pieces of rock that differ from the size and type of rock native to the area in which they are found—range from small till material to boulders of 40 tons. Glaciers brought these rocks from Sweden and Finland and deposited them in the Hondsrug. Some of the larger rocks were used by humans 5,500 years ago to raise Neolithic stone megaliths, the oldest monuments in the Netherlands.  

Azores Global Geopark (Portugal)

The Azores Global Geopark is situated at the triple junction between the North American, Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Its geomorphology is therefore primarily shaped by volcanic and tectonic forces. There have been 26 volcanic eruptions since the early 15th century when the Portuguese first settled the islands, which number 16 major polygenetic volcanoes, most of them silicic while some feature summit caldera subsidence. Nine are still active. In addition there are over 1,700 monogenetic volcanic features dispersed either along the flanks, on the summits of the polygenetic volcanoes, or in some 11 basaltic fissure systems. Features here include domes, tuff rings and cones, maars, scoria and spatter cones. Built heritage includes old manor houses, monasteries and churches as well as several fortresses that bear testimony to pirate attacks in the 16th and 17th centuries. All were constructed with volcanic rocks. Whaling, which was once an important activity in the Azores, has also left a valuable cultural heritage.

Idrija Global Geopark (Slovenia)

The Idrija Global Geopark is situated in the western part of Slovenia, about 60 km from Ljubljana. It was constituted by a very pronounced fracture in the Earth’s crust, one of the strongest in the southern Alps running from Croatia, 120 km across the entire territory of Slovenia, and into Italy. This fault allowed mineral-rich liquids from the deep to deposit mineral resources at higher levels closer to the surface which have been exploited for more than 500 years. The important mining history of Idrija has been inseparably linked to a mercury mine, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2012 as the Heritage of Mercury Almadén and Idrija. The identity of the area and its culture, lifestyle, education, research, industry, health and cuisine all have their roots in this exceptional ore deposit, whose discovery in 1490 led to the development of the town.

Karawanke/Karawanken Global Geopark (Slovenia/Austria)

The Karavanke / Karawanken Global Geopark is named after the Alpine mountain chain which forms the border between Slovenia and Austria. It is marked by ongoing mountain building as proven by recent seismic activity. The tectonic, geological heritage of the Geopark is exceptional. The Alpine mountain building events are linked to the collision between the African and European continents and form a variety of metamorphic rocks. The geological history of the site goes back some 500 million years and has left a rich mining heritage, notably from the extraction of iron and coal. Mines, where different kinds of ore were exploited in the past, have been equipped for tourism and attract many visitors.

Kula Volcanic Global Geopark (Turkey)

The first Geopark of Turkey is a volcanic Geopark located in the Manisa Province in Western Anatolia, 150 km east of Izmir. Volcanic cones and lava flows of the Quaternary age dominate its landscape. The latest eruptions in the site occurred about 12,000 years ago. Some of the volcanic ash layers display fossilized footprints of prehistoric humans. The Kula basalts are the only example of rapid uplifting of asthenospheric material in western Anatolia formed by the rapid southwestward movement of the Aegean microplate overriding Africa. The Kula volcanoes include more than 80 cinder cones, as well as maars, lava flows and tephra. Kula town dates back to the Ottoman Empire and, due to its geographical position, has long been an important centre for the production of, and trade in,  a wide range of goods including carpets, leather and metal products.

Grutas del Palacio Global Geopark (Uruguay)

The first Geopark of Uruguay is located in the northern part of the Department of Flores. The crystalline basement rocks of the Rio de la Plata Craton, which underlie most of Uruguay, are only exposed in the south and east of the country where they make up a characteristic hilly landscape. Elsewhere, they are covered by younger volcanic or sedimentary rocks, which form wide and naturally fertile prairies. The rocks exposed in the Geopark are geologically very old (Precambrian) but every other geological age is represented in the Geopark by different kinds of rocks and sediments. At its northern sector, several Permian sedimentary rocks (sandstone, siltstones and rhythmites) are exposed. Younger lateritic soil features with typically reddish colour are exposed in the ‘Grutas del Palacio Geosite’, which presents a picturesque cave system. The singular geological formation of the caves is characterized by almost 100 columns that are up to two meters height.

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Media contact: Agnès Bardon, UNESCO Press Service. Tel: +33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64, a.bardon(at)unesco.org

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