Research

All European Geoparks are, by definition, characterised by a particular geological heritage and can include sites which may be of archaeological, ecological, historical or cultural importance.  The geological heritage has usually been uncovered through pioneering scientific research involving regional mapping and is described either in the published geological maps and memoirs of geological surveys or in articles written for scientific journals. Discoveries based on specific aspects of a geopark’s geological history have contributed significantly to the development of the science of geology and include sites of particular scientific importance (geosites), a prerequisite for any geopark. Some of these sites are internationally significant and are visited regularly by academic and industrial geologists and by groups of school children and university students studying courses in the Earth sciences. “Translated” into non-scientific language, published geological research within geoparks is used in the design of walking and cycle routes, exhibitions in information centres, for geo-educational activities  and in the production of educational material. Descriptions of the general geology allow comparisons with effects of significant events in the geological history of other regions including other geoparks. These data are also used in information centres and publications to relate the history of the Earth, including the history of life and the succession of past climates and environments.  Scientific research, however, is an ongoing process which will inevitably lead to new advancements in our understanding of the Earth’s history.

Knockan Crag in the North West Highlands,Geopark, Scotland, is an example of an internationally famous site where two geologists, Benjamin Peach and John Horne, discovered the process of thrust faulting whereby older 1000-850 million year old Precambrian rocks were pushed over younger Cambrian and Ordovician rocks ranging from 540 to less than 500 million years in age. Their research resolved the bitter debate among 19th Century British geologists concerning the sequence of rock types at this site. It also paved the way for our understanding of how layers of squeezed rocks can break and slide over each other when continents collide to form mountain ranges. At the Knockan Crag Visitors Centre tourists discover Scotland’s turbulent geological and learn about the rocks and landscape of Knockan Crag through poetry, sculpture and interactive demonstrations. Much earlier the Lesvos Petrified Forest inspired the philosopher Theophrastus (371 – c. 287 BC) to write and his lost work “about those which become petrified”. Theophrastus was the successor of Aristotle and the writer of the book “on rocks” which is considered the basis for mineralogy and petrology. Here a forest with petrified tree trunks and root systems in growth position provides an insight into the ecology of the sub-tropical eastern Mediterranean region some 20 million years ago.

Geoparks may also contain the world’s so-called “type localities” where particular rock types were first described, rock sequences for particular time intervals in the geological record and  internationally famous fossil sites. Pilot’s Cove in Geo Môn Geopark, Wales, is the type locality for a rock known as mélange 3 which forms at subduction zones (explain subduction – non-geologists don´t know that. Maybe better collision zone.)where ocean plates slide beneath continental crust (which is called subduction) creating a rock consisting of jumbled blocks of ocean sediments, ocean floor lavas and continental crustal rocks of varying shapes and sizes. The Tonale Pass in the Adamello Brenta Geopark, Italy, gives its name to the rock Tonalite, a type of granite which was intruded (invaded, infiltrated) as a hot liquid melt into cold continental crustal rocks. Rocks assigned to the internationally recognized geological time intervals, Llandovery Stage (~444 -~428 million years ago) and Silurian Period (~ 444 -416 million years ago) were named for a local town on the northern margin of Fforest Fawr Geopark, Wales, and for the Celtic Silures Tribe who lived in the area. The Pliensbachian Stage (between 192 to 184 million years ago) , an internationally recognized stage within the geological time scale, is named for Pliensbach  a small hamlet in the Geopark Swabian Alb, Germany and the Anisian stage of the Triassic (245 – 237 my) after the Latin name of the river Enns which passes its type locality in the Eisenwurzen. . (very nice, but for my impression too much scientific idioms for non-geologists in this sentence)

(I think that the type localities of Reserve Geologique Haute Provence and Luberon should also be added here)

In Luberon Geopark a hilltop mill just outside Apt has been renovated and made into a small information centre on the Lower Cretaceous Aptian stage named after the town. The Aptian stretches from 114 – 108 million years ago and follows on from the Barrémian which is exposed in the nearby Reserve Geologique Haute Provence  European Geopark.

The Petrified Forest of Lesvos has been designated as a Greek National Monument. Here a forest with petrified tree trunks and root systems in growth position provides an insight into the ecology of the sub-tropical eastern Mediterranean region some 20 million years ago. Messel Pit in Bergstrasse Odenwald Geopark, Germany, is by far the most famous fossil site amongst the European Geoparks and UNESCO world heritage site. Complete skeletons of fossil mammals, birds, crocodiles, frogs, fish, insects, plant leaves fruits and pollen are evidence of the animals and plants which lived in a tropical forest and lake, at this site, approximately 47 million years ago. (alternative) This unique fossil record delivers valuable information about climate development and important steps of the evolution of mammals on Earth.   (From this and other sites fossils have first been scientifically described and have therefore contributed to the knowledge of the evolution of life on earth).

Recently published results of new research projects in European Geoparks create an opportunity for updating existing material and introducing visitors to new and exciting concepts. In 2008 geologists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Oxford reinvestigated and reinterpreted a group of layered rocks in the North West Highlands Geopark, Scotlands, as material which was ejected from a 1.2 billion year old meteorite crater estimated at 10 kilometres in diameter. The mass extinction at the Cretaceous /Tertiary boundary 65 million years ago has been attributed to a meteorite impact. Now, as a result of detailed research undertaken in Eisenwurzen Geopark, Austria, this view has been challenged and this event involving the extinction of 60% of species including the dinosaurs is attributed to changes in the atmosphere induced by volcanic activit.  The Petrified Forest of Lesvos, Greece, uses information from active faults within the geopark to inform the public of the nature of seismic hazards and how careful planning may reduce the risks to life and the economy. The discovery of the oldest fossilized feather in Europe from Nusplingen in the Geopark Swabian Albs, Germany, could play a significant role in our understanding of the evolution of feathers.  Drill cores of lake deposits in the high altitude lakes of Sobrarbe Geopark, Spain, are currently being investigated to determine the history of changes in the climate and environment. Recent investigations at the Kraus Cave, Eisenwurzen Geopark, Austria, revealed astonishing results showing how the limestone walls were dissolved and sculpted by sulphuric acid derived from thermal water. In Fforest Fawr Geopark, Wales, the influence of physical, chemical and biological processes in the precipitation of lime deposits from highly alkaline seepages (pH 13.5) from quarry waste is being investigated.

The range of research activities in geoparks does not only involve professional scientists and is not just confined to geological research. The archaeological, natural and cultural heritages of geoparks are also subjects for research. Luberon Geopark, France, engages teams of young people in excavation techniques designed to reveal the nature of the relationships between fossils and the rocks in which they occur. Arouca Geopark Association, Portugal, supports a research programmes involving “Scientific Work during Holidays”. Bergstrasse Odenwald Geopark, Germany, organized a scientific excavation project for school children in cooperation with the Historical Mining Association Odenwald. In Adamello-Brenta Nature Park, Italy, workers associated with the Glaciological Committee of the Alpine Society of Trentino collaborate with the Park to produce surveys, maps and measurements of its glaciers. The photograph shows the recording of measurements for mass balance studies of the Adamello Glacier, the longest glacier of the Italian Alps. In Madonie Geopark, Italy, recent excavations carried out by the university of the city of L’Aquila, has uncovered the remains of a Roman settlement of the 1st-3rd Century AD, which was probably associated with the nearby salt mine. A joint research project by the Universities of Durham and Sheffield at Kents Cavern in the English Riviera Geopark, England, is making discoveries which will dramatically improve our understanding of life at this important site between 10,000 and 50,000 years ago.

It is clear that all geoparks share a legacy of scientific knowledge which was gathered in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This overview shows that geoparks with their special geological heritage and their wide range of activities stimulate the pursuit of new research and can create research projects involving communities and young people. These projects, particularly excavations, introduce the participants to the excitement involved in making new discoveries and to the curiosity and enthusiasm which are essential components of all scientific research. The results of new scientific research will ensure that geoparks will continue to fulfill their role as active centres for providing a holistic view involving Earth history, the natural and cultural environment and raise awareness of man’s responsibility to conserve and protect the environment.