Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sculpted Archipelago – Hạ Long Bay

This place of an unusual beauty, and of great importance to us for the understanding of our planet, is under the protection of UNESCO as World Heritage Site. It is a result of unique geological evolution that lasts for millions of years.

Great Gulf of Tonkin, in North Vietnam, is known for the tragic wars that French and later Americans led in mid-20th century. But this corner of the South China Sea is a magical and mysterious place, firmly connected to the Vietnamese history and culture. It is also geological museum in the open.

In Ha long Bay, which borders with the Gulf of Tonkin, over 1600 islands of limestone rocks are scattered.  For millions of years, the rain and the wind have sculpted them into extraordinary shapes, thus, creating an archipelago of natural sculptures.

Due to weather conditions, the erosion is constant at this place for about 60 million years. It is continually shaping the surface of soft limestone rocks, and over the last 5000 years, the erosive power of the sea has also interfered. This erosive power has carved wonderful caves on the islands, which, for geologists and biologists, give the opportunity to travel in the past of our planet.

The origin of island-sculptures is ancient and unique: a layer of limestone rocks was created several hundreds of millions years ago, when the ocean covered the area that is now the ending part of continental Asia.

Island-sculptures of limestone sediments are, therefore, rich in remains of organisms which, at that time, lived in a vast ocean. These organisms are now the main source of discovering and interpreting geological and biological development of this region.

In addition, some of the most important archaeological sites of the whole Asian continent are located in this bay - there are found traces of ancient civilization that existed more than 4000 years ago when this area became a crossroad of first trade routes in Asia.

Ha Long Bay Islands are what is left of a giant "warehouse" of limestone sedimentary rocks, about a thousand meters thick, after washout and gouging by the rain and wind. This rocky layer, mainly made of calcium carbonate, is sedimented about 240 to 340 million years ago, when the bay was laying, for 100 million years, under the ocean.

Then, 60 million years ago, the movement of tectonic plates lifted the land above water, and about 10,000 years ago, the sea returned to its old passage inside the bay. Along with rain and wind, the sea definitely made its "contribution" to the carving of Ha Long limestone islands.

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