As my surname suggests, although I am Scottish, my cultural background is a little more complicated than that. My family on my father's side come from the steep glacial valleys of the Alps, with a confusing interwoven fabric of Northern Italian and West Austrian blood that (we'd like to think) stretches right back to Oetzi the Ice Man. As a result, my heart two-times beautiful Scotland with it's other lover: South Tyrol.
The European Alps are a geological car crash - in fact they're a multi-car pile-up 30 million years in the making. Trying to understand the whole thing is a bit of a mind-bender, but the area of Tyrol I'll be wandering through for the next week, near Meran in Northern Italy, is made up of the crumpled margins of the Apulian or Adriatic plate, a chunk of Africa that broke off in the Cretaceous. The rest of it is still being crushed between the long boot of Italy and the coasts of Croatia to Albania, before curling round and cupping the bottom of Italy's heel.
|What's left of the Apulian plate is being squeezed behind the Italian boot. To the North, beautiful Tyrol, part of the Alps mountain chain. Image: adapted from Wikipedia|
As well as pieces of these continental plates, chunks of the ancient Tethys seaway have been heaved up here. The Tethys was a massive shallow sea cupped in the hands of the supercontinent of Pangea, but as the continents broke up and rearranged themselves, it was sandwiched, sub-ducted and uplifted along it's length, leaving fossils high and dry from the Alps to the Himalayas (although these fossils have often been destroyed in later metamorphic processes).
|The Alpine geology in the area I'm exploring. The Legend is at the end of this blog, or go here for the complete interactive map of the Alps.|
Suffice to say, there's a lot going on geologically. My bag will be full of rocks by the end. On top of that, literally, is the wonderful alpine ecosystem. Although much altered by man, they valleys and mountainsides of the region are a naturalist's wonderland.
So off I go with my camera, map and ID guides, let's see what I can find.
|Taken 2 years ago in the valley where my relatives live. I can't wait to return.|
Legend for the geological map of the region.