Gracefully Dissolving


Madagascan Karst

Of all the wonders of nature, a tree in summer is perhaps the most remarkable;
with the possible exception of a moose singing ''Embraceable You'' in spats.

- Woody Allen

Tsingy of Bemaraha, Morondava region, Madagascar (18°47' S, 45°03' E)

The strange mineral forest of Tsingy of Bemaraha stands on the western coast of Madagascar.  This geological formation, called a karst, is the result of erosion, as acid rains have gradually dissolved the stone of the chalky plateau and carved out sharp ridges that can rise to heights of 95 feet (30 m).  This nearly impenetrable labyrinth (tsingy is the Malagasy term for "walking on tiptoe") shelters its own unique flora and fauna, which have not been completely recorded.

The site was declared a nature reserve in 1927 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990.  Madagascar is a 230,000-square-mile (587,000 km2) fragment of earth produced by continental drift, isolated for 100 million years in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southern Africa, and has thus developed distinctive and diverse animal and plant species, sometimes with archaic characteristics.

It has an exceptional rate of endemism: more than 80% of the approximately 12,000 plant species and nearly 1,200 animal species recorded are indigenous to the island only; but close to 200 Madagascan species are in danger of extinction.

Source: from Earth from Above by the incomparable photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.  Visit his site to see lovely photos of all sorts of things.

For more about karst, see also:

bulletLogging Threatens Mystical Underground World (in the Environment section) - Underfoot lies another world, even more ancient: a dark labyrinth of caves and subterranean streams carved through limestone and marble bedrock.  Huge sinkholes, pits and vertical crevices called grikes riddle the forest, channeling water downward, where it may flow for miles before emerging.  This landform, characterised by subsurface drainage, is known as karst.
bulletPunching a Hole in the Earth (earlier in this section) - Karst is limestone rock eaten away by runoff water which turns into sulfuric acid when combined with the rock, thus forming caves or sinkholes.  This sinkhole is 330-feet deep and has swallowed a dozen houses and three people - so far...
bulletThe Zacatón Cenote (farther on in this section) - Cenotes are karst formations which occur when underground water etches away at limestone bedrock to form enormous subterranean caverns.  Eventually the cavern roofs collapse leaving deep circular rock pools.  The word cenote is a Spanish rendering of the Mayan word d'zonot which means literally "a hole in the ground"...
bulletBryce Canyon (in the Photographs section) - for a lovely aerial shot of karst fins...

For more about Madagascar, see also:

bullet60 Slaves Abandoned for 15 Years (earlier in this section) - About Tromelin Island, claimed by Madagascar, Maritius, and France...

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