Dance of the earth

For eons the earth has been bending, buckling, contracting and expanding. And this unique dance gives rise to sculptures which are wonders of nature.

Anyone who walks along the shores of Lake Tortum in Turkey’s northeastern Erzurum province will be amazed at the rock formations that surround it. Rocks bearing marks from millions of years ago in layers hundreds of meters thick have so buckled and bent in some sections that one wonders what force could possibly have thrust them into this shape. Not far - only 100 kilometers - from the lake the red fairy chimneys of Narman illustrate another aspect of nature. Inextricably intertwined, nature and history whisper sacred tales in Cappadocia. Pamukkale meanwhile accents nature’s purity. And the glacier lakes of the Kaçkar Mountains take us back thousands of years.

The number of natural phenomena we can actually see with the naked eye is quite small. Everything happens, develops and changes unbeknownst to us. We examine the cultural heritage left by the people who lived before us; we try to understand and preserve it. We obtain detailed information about people who lived thousands of years ago by deciphering, for example, an ancient tablet. For individuals have always recorded their stories on something in the form of a heritage. 

Every monument that makes up this cumulative culture transmits to our day the messages of people who lived thousands of years ago.

The  earth, which is approximately four and a half billion years old, has also recorded in stone every event it has experienced since its formation. And every geological formation  transmits to the present a host of data about its past, concealing those records sometimes in a sedimentary rock formation, sometimes in a mineral coming from the magma.

Geologists who examine magmatic, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks glean valuable information about the earth’s past. The fossils found in sedimentary rocks in particular are regarded as important records of living organisms. As witnesses of the period in which those organisms lived, fossils pass along to our day information of every kind. The climate of the period in which the rocks were formed, biological diversity in that period, and the age of the sedimentary rocks as well as various tectonic phenomena can all be determined thanks to fossils.

The pillow lava that forms during Sea Floor Spreading appears to be one of the most interesting pieces of evidence that a region was once affected by a crack occurring at the bottom of the ocean floor. And the presence of fossils of marine organisms in the Taurus, the Himalayas and other high mountainous regions constitutes the strongest evidence that those areas were once below sea level. Similarly, layers of buckled rock are the best evidence that a compression occurred in the region in earlier periods. As well as being a message from the past, some geological formations that have managed to survive to our day continue to attract people with their unusual appearance. 

We use the term ‘geological heritage’ for any region, rock formation, or fossil, mineral or earth form that came about in a specific period of the earth’s development, and that has the appearance of a rare natural monument whether by virtue of how it was formed or the way it is situated.

Geological heritage studies first began in Europe, and the French city of Digne hosted the First International Symposium on the Conservation of the Geological Heritage in 1991. The decisions taken at the symposium were published and an appeal was issued to all countries to preserve the geological heritage. There are official, semi-official and volunteer organizations for preserving the geological heritage in almost every country of the world today. In Turkey, too, JEMIRKO (the Geological Heritage Protection Association) was formed for this purpose in 1999, spearheaded by a few concerned geologists. Compiling an inventory of Turkey’s geological heritage, the association aims to take under protection any natural   monuments that could be regarded as ‘geological heritage'. The Mineral Research and Exploration Institute in recent years has also formed a geological heritage working group and undertaken research on the subject.

Formations that can be regarded as geological heritage fall into two categories. The first group consists of those with little visual but high scientific value - a fossil bed, for example, or a mineral deposit. The second group consists of those which, in addition to having high scientific value, are also high in visual value. Turkey is rich in both, with every region of the country from north to south and east to west   possessing natural monuments that can be regarded as geological heritage. Cappadocia, the İscehisar, Narman Kırmızı and Kuşça Fairy Chimneys, Pamukkale, the Tuz Gölu or Salt Lake as well as Lake Meke and Lake Tortum, the Nemrut Caldera, the Kula volcanoes, the Damlataş, Ballıca, Karaca and Dupnisa Caves, the Tortum, Muradiye, and Marmaros (Gökçeada) waterfalls, the Kestanbol Ancient Granite Quarries, the Boyabat Sütün Basalts, the Çamlıdere Fossil Forest, the glacier lakes and the Kaçkar, Cilo and Aladağlar glaciers, and Saklıkent and Vala canyons head the list of Turkey’s best known natural monuments, the most significant feature of which is their visual attractiveness. In addition to these, there are hundreds of other areas in Turkey that can be regarded as geological heritage.

Every element of geological heritage attracts attention first for the interesting story of how it was formed. Fairy chimneys, for example, are formed by the erosion in geological time of the volcanic ash that settles following volcanic activity. This is where we become most aware of nature’s role as artist. Waterfalls and deep canyons are the result of large-scale earthquakes that occurred in the past; and glaciers and glacier lakes transmit to the present traces of the last ice age, which occurred in Turkey a few thousand years ago. Caves meanwhile offer magnificent views as well as being of interest from the standpoint of health. Several caves in Turkey, most eminently Damlataş, are known to be good for asthma. 

In many regions of the world, especially in the European countries, formations that qualify as geological heritage are being taken under protection, the primary purpose being to preserve them from damage. These regions are then turned into geoparks and opened up to tourism.
The geological heritage studies being carried out today mean the preservation of a host of information coming down to us from hundreds of millions of years ago. By preserving that information we can ensure that future generations will also be able to hear the earth’s story as told by the earth itself.