The Alps are one of the great mountain range systems of Europe stretching approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) across eight Alpine countries from Austria and Slovenia in the east, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and France to the west, and Italy and Monaco to the south. The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,810 m (15,781 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains about a hundred peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,123 ft), known as the "four-thousanders".
The altitude and size of the range affects the climate in Europe; in the mountains precipitation levels vary greatly and climatic conditions consist of distinct zones. Wildlife such as ibex live in the higher peaks to elevations of 3,400 m (11,155 ft), and plants such as Edelweiss grow in rocky areas in lower elevations as well as in higher elevations. Evidence of human habitation in the Alps goes back to the Paleolithic era. A mummified man, determined to be 5,000 years old, was discovered on a glacier at the Austrian–Italian border in 1991. By the 6th century BC, the Celtic La Tène culture was well established. Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants, and the Romans had settlements in the region. In 1800 Napoleon crossed one of the mountain passes with an army of 40,000. The 18th and 19th centuries saw an influx of naturalists, writers, and artists, in particular the Romantics, followed by the golden age of alpinism as mountaineers began to ascend the peaks. In World War II, Adolf Hitler kept a base of operation in the Bavarian Alps throughout the war.
The Alpine region has a strong cultural identity. The traditional culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking still exists in Alpine villages, although the tourist industry began to grow early in the 20th century and expanded greatly after World War II to become the dominant industry by the end of the century. The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps. At present the region is home to 14 million people and has 120 million annual visitors.
The English word Alps derives from the Latin Alpes (through French). Maurus Servius Honoratus, an ancient commentator of Virgil, says in his commentary (A. X 13) that all high mountains are called Alpes by Celts. The term may be common to Italo-Celtic, because the Celtic languages have terms for high mountains derived from alp.
This may be consistent with the theory that in Latin Alpes is a name of non-Indo-European origin (which is common for prominent mountains and mountain ranges in the Mediterranean region). According to the Old English Dictionary, the Latin Alpes might possibly derive from a pre-Indo-European word *alb "hill", with Albania being a related derivation. Interestingly, Albania (which is a foreign name for modern Albanians) has been used as a name for a number of mountainous areas across Europe. In Roman times, Albania was a name for the eastern Caucasus, while in the English language Albania (or Albany) was occasionally used as a name for Scotland.
In modern languages the term alp, alm, albe or alpe refers to a grazing pastures in the alpine regions below the glaciers, not the peaks. An alp refers to a high mountain pasture where cows are taken to be grazed during the summer months and where hay barns can be found, and the term "the Alps", referring to the mountains, is a misnomer. The term for the mountain peaks varies by nation and language: words such as horn, kogel, gipfel, spitz, and berg are used in German speaking regions: mont, pic, dent and aiguille in French speaking regions; and monte or cima in Italian speaking regions.
The Alps extend in an arc from France in the south and west to Slovenia in the east, and from Monace in the south to Germany in the north.
The Alps are a crescent shaped geographic feature of central Europe that ranges in a 800 km (500 mi) arc from east to west and is 200 km (120 mi) in width. The mean height of the mountain peaks is 2.5 km (1.6 mi). The range stretches from the Mediterranean Sea north above the Po river basin, extending through France from Grenoble, eastward through mid and southern Switzerland. The range continues toward Vienna in Austria, and east to the Adriatic Sea and into Slovenia. To the south it dips into northern Italy and to the north extends to the south border of Bavaria in Germany. In areas like Chiasso, Switzerland, and Neuschwanstein, Bavaria, the demarkation between the mountain range and the flatlands are clear; in other places such as Geneva, the demarkation is less clear. The countries with the greatest alpine territory are Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy.
The highest portion of the range is divided by the glacial trough of the Rhone valley, with the Pennine Alps from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa on the Southern side, and the Bernese Alps on the Northern. The peaks in the easterly portion of the range, in Austria and Slovenia, are smaller than those in the central and western portions.
The variances in nomenclature in the region spanned by the Alps makes classification of the mountains and subregions difficult, but a general classification is that of the Eastern Alps and Western Alps with the divide between the two occurring in eastern Switzerland according to geologist Stefan Schmid, near the Splügen Pass.
The highest peaks of the Western Alps and Eastern Alps, respectively, are Mont Blanc, at 4,810 m (15,780 ft) and Piz Bernina at 4,049 metres (13,284 ft). The second-highest peaks are Monte Rosa at 4,634 m (15,200 ft) and Ortler at 3,905 m (12,810 ft), respectively
Series of lower mountain ranges run parallel to the main chain of the Alps, including the French Prealps in France and the Jura Mountains in Switzerland and France. The secondary chain of the Alps follows the watershed from the Mediterranean Sea to the Wienerwald, passing over many of the highest and most well-known peaks in the Alps. From the Colle di Cadibona to Col de Tende it runs westwards, before turning to the northwest and then, near the Colle della Maddalena, to the north. Upon reaching the Swiss border, the line of the main chain heads approximately east-northeast, a heading it follows until its end near Vienna.
The Alps have been crossed for war and commerce, and by pilgrims, students and tourists. Crossing routes by road, train or foot are known as passes, and usually consist of depressions in the mountains in which a valley leads from the plains and hilly pre-mountainous zones. In the medieval period hospices were established by religious orders at the summits of many of the main passes. The most important passes are the Col de l’Iseran (the highest), the Brenner Pass, the Mont-Cenis, the Great St. Bernard Pass, the Col de Tende, the Gotthard Pass, the Semmering Pass, and the Stelvio Pass.
Crossing the Italian-Austrian border, the Brenner Pass separates the Ötztal Alps and Zillertal Alps and has been in use as a trading route since the 14th century. The lowest of the Alpine passes at 985 m (3,232 ft), the Semmering crosses from Lower Austria to Styria; since the 12th century when a hospice was built there it has seen continuous use. A railroad with a tunnel 1 mile (1.6 km) long was built along the route of the pass in the mid-19th century. With a summit of 2,469 m (8,100 ft), the Great St. Bernard Pass is one of the highest in the Alps, crossing the Italian-Swiss border east of the Pennine Alps along the flanks of Mont Blanc. The pass was used by Napoleon Bonaparte to cross 40,000 troops in 1800. The Saint Gotthard Pass crosses from Central Switzerland to Ticino; in the late 19th century the 14 km (9 mi) long Saint Gotthard Tunnel was built connecting Lucerne in Switzerland, with Milan in Italy. The Mont Cenis pass has been a major commercial road between Western Europe and Italy. Now the pass has been supplanted by the Fréjus Road and Rail tunnel. At 2,756 m (9,042 ft), the Stelvio Pass in northern Italy is one of the highest of the Alpine passes; the road was built in the 1820s. The highest pass in the alps is the col de l’Iseran in Savoy (France) at 2,770 m (9,088 ft).
Alpine orogeny and Geology of the Alps
Important geological concepts were established as naturalists began studying the rock formations of the Alps in the 18th century. In the mid-19th century the now defunct theory of geosynclines was used to explain the presence of "folded" mountain chains but by the mid-20th century the theory of plate tectonics became widely accepted.
The formation of the Alps (the Alpine orogeny) was an episodic process that began about 300 million years ago. In the Paleozoic Era the Pangaean supercontinent consisted of a single tectonic plate; it broke into separate plates during the Mesozoic Era and the Tethys sea developed between Laurasia and Gondwana during the Jurassic Period. The Tethys was later squeezed between colliding plates causing the formation of mountain ranges called the Alpide belt, from Gibraltar through the Himalayas to Indonesia—a process that began at the end of the Mesozoic and continues into the present. The formation of the Alps was a segment of this orogenic process, caused by the collision between the African and the Eurasian plates that began in the late Cretaceous Period.
Under extreme compressive stresses and pressure, marine sedimentary rocks were uplifted, creating characteristic recumbent folds, or nappes, and thrust faults. As the rising peaks underwent erosion, a layer of marine flysch sediments was deposited in the foreland basin, and the sediments became involved in younger nappes (folds) as the orogeny progressed. Coarse sediments from the continual uplift and erosion were later deposited in foreland areas as molasse. The molasse regions in Switzerland and Bavaria were well-developed and saw further upthrusting of flysch.
The Alpine orogeny occurred in ongoing cycles through to the Paleogene causing differences in nappe structures, with a late-stage orogeny causing the development of the Jura Mountains. A series of tectonic events in the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods caused different paleogeographic regions. The Alps are subdivided by different lithology (rock composition) and nappe structure according to the orogenic events that affected them The geological subdivision differentiates the Western, Eastern Alps and Southern Alps: the Helveticum in the north, the Penninicum and Austroalpine system in the center and, south of the Periadriatic Seam, the Southern Alpine system.
Compressed metamorphosed Tethyan sediments and their oceanic basement are sandwiched between the tip of the Matterhorn, which consists of gneisses originally part of the African plate, and the base of the peak, which is part of the Eurasian plate.
According to geologist Stefan Schmid, because the Western Alps underwent a metamorphic event in the Cenozoic Era while the Austroalpine peaks underwent an event in the Cretaceous Period, the two areas show distinct differences in nappe formations. Flysch deposits in the Southern Alps of Lombardy probably occurred in the Cretaceous or later.
Peaks in France, Italy and Switzerland lie in the "Houlliere zone", which consists of basement with sediments from the Mesozoic Era. High "massifs" with external sedimentary cover are more common in the Western Alps and were affected by Neogene Period thin-skinned thrusting whereas the Eastern Alps have comparatively few high peaked massifs. Similarly the peaks in Switzerland extending to western Austria (Helvetic nappes) consist of thin-skinned sedimentary folding that detached from former basement rock.
In simple terms the structure of the Alps consists of layers of rock of European, African and oceanic (Tethyan) origin. The bottom nappe structure is of continental European origin, above which are stacked marine sediment nappes, topped off by nappes derived from the African plate. The Matterhorn is an example of the ongoing orogeny and shows evidence of great folding. The tip of the mountain consists of gneisses from the African plate; the base of the peak, below the glaciated area, consists of European basement rock. The sequence of Tethyan marine sediments and their oceanic basement is sandwiched between rock derived from the African and European plates.
The core regions of the Alpine orogenic belt have been folded and fractured in such a manner that erosion created the characteristic steep vertical peaks of the Swiss Alps that rise seemingly straight out of the foreland areas. Peaks such as Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and high peaks in the Pennine Alps, the Briançonnais, and Hohe Tauern consist of layers of rock from the various orogenies including exposures of basement rock.
"Four-thousanders" and ascents
The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) has defined a list of 82 "official" Alpine summits that reach at least 4,000 m (13,123 ft). The list includes not only mountains, but also subpeaks with little prominence that are considered important mountaineering objectives. Below are listed the 22 "four-thousanders" with at least 500 m (1,640 ft) of prominence.
While Mont Blanc was first climbed in 1786, most of the Alpine four-thousanders were climbed during the first half of the 19th century; the ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 marked the end of the golden age of alpinism. Karl Blodig (1859–1956) was among the first to successfully climb all the major 4,000 m peaks. He completed his series of ascents in 1911.
The first British Mont Blanc ascent was in 1788; the first female ascent in 1819. By the mid-1850s Swiss mountaineers had ascended most of the peaks and were eagerly sought as mountain guides. Edward Whymper reached the top of the Matterhorn in 1865 (after seven attempts), and in 1938 the last of the six great north faces of the Alps was climbed with the first ascent of the Eiger Nordwand (north face of the Eiger).
Posted by shoot it! on 2014-08-25 07:28:37
Tagged: , Alps , Alpen , Sky , skiing , winter , snow , sneeuw , top , mountain , mountains , berg , bergen , skieen , wintersport , wintersports , Austria , oostenrijk , Fiss , Ladis , 2011 , panorama , panoramic , landscape , Photoshop , CS5 , Photoshop CS5 , Powershot , G10 , Canon Powershot G10 , blue , Marco , Struijlaart , Marco Struijlaart