A glorious world of glaciers

The “Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch” World Heritage property protects one of the world’s most spectacular mountain landscapes, home to towering massifs, unspoilt valleys and the largest glaciated area in the Alps. The area covers a wide range of habitats, from Mediterranean-style steppe to bare rocky mountaintop, and also reveals a long and fascinating human history. Natural Heritage since 2001 (2007 extension).



History

For 500 Million years the Jungfrau-Aletsch region has been scene of a constant geological and geographical evolution. The Alps are still rising approximately 0,5 to 0,7 millimetres per year, faster than the rate of erosion. This is due to the northward drift of the African tectonic plate, pushing against the stable Eurasian plate at a rate of 5 centimetres per year. The formation of the Alps, between 20 and 40 million years ago, is a consequence of the collision of these two plates. The resulting over thrusts and upward thrusts have led to complex formations. The chronology of the geological layers is often surprising since the oldest layers are not always at the lowest levels, where they normally are, but lie on top of more recent ones. Thus the peaks of the Mönch and the Jungfrau consist of a crystalline rock which is older than the limestone below, whereas the summit of the Eiger is almost exclusively limestone. This complexity can also be deduced from the physiography of the region: The north is distinguished by precipitous walls of rock including the renowned North Face of the Eiger with its 1,800 meter sheer drop and steep valleys. In the South the slopes fall more gently towards the Rhone Valley. This tells us that, considering the history of the Earth, the Alps as we know them are among the more recent mountain formations, since they are only 2 million years old.

Did you know?

• If the Great Aletsch Glacier melted it could give a litre of water to each person living on the planet every day for the next five years.
• The Jungfraujoch railway station is the highest in Europe at 3,454 metres above sea level and is located in the middle of the World Heritage property.

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