Recent scientific geological topics

Geology of the Ore of the Alps UNESO Global Geopark

From a geological point of view, the Ore of the Alps UNESCO Global Geopark is located in the Northern Limestone Alps, the Grauwackenzone and the Tauern Window (Penninic). The Northern Limestone Alps, with the Hochkönig, Hagen- and Tennengebirge, consist mostly of limestones and dolomites, which form rugged and brittle rock formations, such as the Mandelwände. The softer slates and phyllites of the GRauwackenzone, on the other hand, form gentler hills such as the Hochgründeck. This zone is also home to the copper ore deposits that have been an exploited region since prehistoric times. Further south, there are gorge limestones and lime phyllites, which form the Paarseen - Heukareck - Schuhflicker landscape conservation area.

During the Ice Age, i.e. from 2.6 million years to 11,600 years ago, the area was covered several times by glaciers more than 1000 m thick, so that about 20,000 years ago, for example, the Hochgründeck was still completely under ice. As a result, many traces of this period can be found in the Geopark. Soil formation did not begin until the ice had retreated.


Soil is the living layer of the solid earth. Soil colonisers, such as plants, dissolve minerals from the rocky subsoil and thus accelerate its weathering. At the same time, ants, spiders, earthworms and other soil dwellers including fungi process dead plant material (e.g. leaf litter and dead wood) and add carbon and nitrogen from the air to the soil. The excretions and remains of these creatures produce organic matter known as humus. This is the basis for the production of all soils.

The soils in the Ore of the Alps UNESCO Global Geopark are young. Soil formation only began after melting and retreat of the large ice-age glaciers, probably around 17,000 to 15,000 years ago. Only when vegetation returned to the formerly ice-covered areas were the first pioneer plants able to assert themselves. These formed so-called raw soils with very little humus, and can still be found in the high mountains today. 

The first raw soils formed in the Geopark around 16,000 years ago. Since then, they have grown to considerable thicknesses of over one meter in some cases. These brown earths can be found as well-developed, very fertile soils throughout the Geopark. 

This means that it took over 10,000 years for our current brown soils to develop. Despite an annual soil loss of 1.1 tons per hectare for grassland and 5.8 tons per hectare for arable land caused by erosion (Austrian Federal Office of Water Management, 2020), the soils are roughly balanced out by new soil formation. In some regions, however, significantly more is removed than is newly formed. Soil fulfills many functions (water storage and purification, provision of food, etc.) and is therefore an essential basis for life.

Geological Map of the Ore of the Alps UNESCO Global Geopark

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