Global Network of National Geoparks

Scientific Significance and Value of Mt Sanqingshan Geopark, China

Published :March 4, 2008

Yin Guosheng1   Hong Changhe1  Long Meimei2  Yang Shaou3      Zha Qizhi  Wu Biqing3
(1.Geological Survey of Jiangxi Province
2. Department of Land and Resources of Jiangxi Province  
3.Administration Committee of Mt Sanqingshan National Geopark)


Abstract:Mt Sanqingshan geopark holds 1 billion years of evolutional histroy of the Earth. There are abundant geological and natural heritages within the park and its surroudings. Of which, the heritages of global significance and important scientific values include remains of the Proterozoic plate collision, ophiolite melange, various types of granite, almost continuous stratigraphic records of 1 billion years, Nanhua glacial event, Ordovician grapetolitic community and unusual and graceful granite mountainous peak forest geomorphology,etc.

Key words::Geopark  Scientific value  Mt Sanqingshan, China

In the southeast of China between latitude 28°55′N and longitude118°04′E, a national geopark,covering an area of 756km2, has been established in order to protect, utilize the geosites and support the sustainable development of local social economy. It was named Mt Sanqingshan National Geopark, as its central area is just situated in Mt Sanqingshan, Shangrao City, Jiangxi Province(Fig.1).

Fig 1.  Location of Mt Sanqingshan Geopark in China

It is a large-scale scientific park featuring the geodiversity, biodiversity and diversity of landscape as well as long-term natural evolution and 2,000 years of human civilization, serving multiple purposes of tourism and sightseeing, curiosity-driven adventures, scientific research and environmental protection.

1. Natural Museum of Granite Mountainous Peak Forest Geomorphology
Mount Sanqingshan Geopark is a natural museum for observation or sightseeing. In the central scenic area, a granite mountain massif rising steeply to 1816.9m a.s.l. is stunning beautiful and rich in scientific resources of international importance. It can be justified as the exceptional natural wonders of the world, with unusual and graceful granite landscapes which is one known in China as "Peak Forest", also called "Mt Sanqingshan-type granite landscape".Its outstanding properties are typical of the abundance, diversity and high quality, densely distributed, various types, life-like and true to life of the landforms. Particularly, the "Oriental Goddess" Peak is dignified, graceful and remarkably life like,it is unsurpassed in presenting the romantic charm of an oriental woman; the "Gigantic Boa" is a slender pillar rising up from the peak forest by as high as 128m, like a "boa" holding its head up against sky, full of life tension and noble spirit, and they are deemed to be superlative scenes under heaven; Wanhuchaotian ,Guanying Enjoys Music, Peak Cluster at Heavely Gate, Three Dragons Rushing to Sea, Monkey-King Admiring the Treasure, Bottle Gourd Stone, Celestial Turtle Searching in Sea, Old Taoist Worshiping the Moon, Penguin Stone and Double-Breast Stone are the most representative rare and precious landscapes, especially the exceptional assemblage of ecology, granite geology and landform, displaying an unsurpassed natural beauty. Some appraise Mount Sanqingshan as " Home of clouds, a gallery of pine trees and fantastic rocks ", the other say "Grotesqueness from grotesque view, elegance hidden in elegant scence". The peculiar granite landscape varies in form and pattern, remarkably true to life. Furthermore, the peculiar granite landforms with typical features have been preserved completely in the processes of evolution(Fig.2).

Fig.2 Stages in the evolution of the granite landforms
of Mount Sanqingshan(Yin Guosheng, 2006)

Being an outstanding examplar of geomorphological study, and also a natural model for artistic creation. For these reasons, Mount Sanqingshan is regarded as a typical representative of granite mountainous peak forest geomorphology, a natural museum of geomorphological study and a natural textbook explaining geomorphology with important geomorphological value and aesthetic value of landscape.

Meanwhile, it provides a natural laboratory for studying the controlling factors and evolutional processes which created the unique granite landscape.

Mount Sanqingshan is a masterpiece created by the Nature, and a product resulting from the endogenous and exdogenous processes of the Earth. The occurrence of the marvelous micro-landforms of Mt Sanqingshan is due to a multipicity of factors. These include the existence of ultra-acidic, high silicic, high potassium and low calcium granites as a material basis; The crustal extension that produced deep vertical joints lying on a fan-shaped fracture pattern of the mountain which cuts the granite  into blocks, thick plates and prisms. In addition, the area receives substantial precipitation causing leaching and scouring of the mountainside to create an outstanding and unusual sculptural landscape. Further development of the landscape is attributable gravity collapse and biological activity.

The landforms in Mount Sanqingshan are of nine different types, known as overlapped peaks, peak wall, peak cluster, stone forest, stone cone, peak pillar, rock cliff, gorge and pictographic stone. The central scenic area of 2,800ha includes 48 individual peaks, 96 scenery spots and 361 individual landforms of note. These abundant granite landforms display scientific significance of earth evolution, especially the evolutional history of the landforms.

2.  An Epitome of Karst Geological Processes
The area of the Sanqing lake in the south of geopark is a structural karst zone of Carboniferous carbonate rocks and the most important area of karst landscapes in Jiangxi Province. The karst here displays a comprehensive set of typical landforms, which are well-developed although it is distributed as small scale. Controlled by NW-trending fracture zone, the landscape has both important underground components. On the surface developed a karst lake, solutional and collapse dolines, natural bridges, solution groove and karren, pavements and clint, peak cluster, blind valleys, limestone wadi, gorges and pictographic stone. Beneath the surface, cave systems are well-developed with many carrying active rivers fed by surface run-off. Over 50 cave entrances are known, while many caves hold important clastic, chemical and alluvial deposits. The landforms in the cave feast for eyes, with hanging stalactite at the top, and numerous stalagmites at the bottom, accompanying with sounds of running water or thundering of waterfalls underground river. Furthermore, the karst geological phenomena show that this area was at least uplifted three times.

3.  Ancient Biogeographic Realm Spanning Over 200Ma of Evolutionary History
Mount Sanqingshan has very distinct four seasons, with corresponding beautiful sceneries: In spring , flowers flourish, rich in color; in summer, greenshades are everywhere, refreshing; in autumn, leaves seem to be dyed in red, colorful and in winter, it is snow-covered, a crystal world. This is what Mount Sanqingshan is all about------a place of vigor and soul for its advantageous eco-environment.

The evolution of biological world since over 200 million years bred the present unique ecosystem of middle and sub-tropical east-humid evergreen broadleaved forest. There are nine vegetation types: evergreen broadleaved forest, deciduous broadleaved mixed forest, warm temperate coniferous forest and coppice forest. Meanwhile, there are identified 2,373 species of higher plants and 401 species of vertebrate; of which, 45 species are listed in the IUCN Species Red List; 146 species of animals and plants are listed in the appendix of CITES( Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species ); 144 species are listed in China Species Red List and 79 species enjoy State-Level Key Protection.

In the Quaternary Ice Age, the vegetation of Mount Sanqingshan was not severely affected by the ice-sheet, thus providing a biotic shelter for many ancient plant species. Furthermore, ancient plant community and a diversity of species have been preserved. Mount Sanqingshan has become a worthy primitive bio-paradise in the world. Among the disjunct distributed plants between East Asia and North America, China in total has 121 genera while Mount Sanqingshan possesses 68 genera, accounting for 56.2% of the total of China. Well-preserved rare and endangered disjunct species include P. Gausseni, Liriodendron chinensis, Tsuga tchkliangenis,Pseudotaxus chienii, Taxus mairrei, Ttragopa Caboti, Syrmaticus ellioti and Muntiacus crinifrons. In particular, P.gaussenii, corresponding to P. menziesii in North America, occupies 533ha as a forest. The Liriodendron chinense, corresponding to L.tulipifera in North America is distributed here with extensive tracts.

Therefore, it is the key location in which to study plant community development and served as a “"Natural Laboratory" in which to study speciation and ecological processes, which have evolved through geological, palaeogeographic and palaeoclimatic changes.

4.  1 Billion Years' Evolutional History of the Earth and Evidence of Significant Geological Events
Mount Sanqingshan is located within the conjunction zone between Yangzi and Cathaysian Paleoplates, containing a continuous stratigraphic record of 1 billion years of geological evolution(Figs 3, 4); The paleo-oceanic and collision relics of the plates such as unique Neoproterozoic ophiolite, oceanic plagiogranite and glaucophance schist can be observed in this area; granite sequence of multi-phase and multi-genesis are well-developed here, including two eras: Proterozoic era and Mesozoic era; three stages: early-middle-late Yanshanian stages of Mesozoic ear; four genetic types: oceanic genetic "M" type, "I", "S", "A" types resulting from intracontinental orogeny and extension; three kinds of emplacement modes(abyssal, hypabyssal and volcanic conduit) as well as various types of granite structure . The granite in Mount Sanqingshan belongs to one of important members in the granite sequence. Additionally, the significant geoheritages such as Neoproterozoic volcanic rock, Nanhua (Cryogenian) tillite conglomerate, Cambrian black shale, Ordovician graptolite shale, unconformity at the bottom of Devonian strata, Carboniferous limestone, Jurassic silicified wood, Mesozoic volcanic rock and Cretaceous Dinosaur eggs as well as peculiar and graceful granite landforms. These geoheritages are closely related to the evolutionary history of Mount Sanqingshan, which holds eight geological events of global significance:

Fig.3  Location of Sanqingshan in Tectonic Domain of Southeast
China (Yang Minggui,2004;Arthur N.Strahler, 1977 )

(i) Proterozoic ophiolite melange provides evidence of the closure of the Middle Neoproterozoic South China Ocean and the continent-continent collision between Yangzi and Cathaysia plates, also supporting Jingning Orogeny in the Chinese continent as well as the amalgamation of the supercontinent Rodinia.

(ii) Neoperoterozoic bimodal basalts and rhyolite which lavas have been dated to 817.6Ma (Rb-Sr isochron) or 807Ma (SHRIMP), indicating that the rifting and break-up of Rodinia occurred 820Ma-800Ma.

(iii) Tillite of the Nantuo formation records the Nanhua period(also known as the Cryogenian Period ) global glacial event.

(iv) Black shale of early Cambrian Hetang formation records the Cambrian Anoxic Event and rapid evolution of life form in the early Cambrian period in South China.

Fig.4 Regional Geological Map of Mt Sanqingshan Geopark

(v) Ordovician graptolite shale and shell limestone records the Ordovician biodiversification and diversity of paleogeographic environment.

(vi) Upper Devonian sedimentary unconformably overlies on the middle and lower Silurian, which is a major evidence of late-early Paleozoic Caledonian Movement. It also holds an evidence of early-late Paleozoic marine transgression.

(vii) Features of geology, petrology and petrogeochemistry of various types of granite show the intra-continental deep subduction along the suture zone between Proterozoic Plates ,accompanied with large scale granite magmatic activity , as influced by westward subduction of the Pacific Plate.

(viii) The structures such as rich folds of bed, fractures with typical features and joints of granit, not only are the evidence of regional crustal deformation, but also an important factor controlling the formation of Mt Sanqingshan and its unique and graceful landscapes. Furthermore, it also provides a natural textbook for scientific popularization.

5.  A Typical Model of Harmonious Existence Between Man and Nature
Mount Sanqingshan is an eternal famous mountain not only with 1 billion years of natural evolutional history but also a typical model of harmonious existence between man and nature for 2,000 years. Mount Sanqingshan, with a long-drawn-out history, was a place chosen by Fairyman Gehong for practicing Taoism and seeking immortality in China's Eastern Jin Dynasty and has since ancient times been reputed as “"An Unparalleled land of Good Luck Clear of Hustle and Bustle, No.1 Fairy Peak South to the Yangze River Rising High Above the Clouds" Thus, it has been a must-go place for Taoists and their followers. There are a lots of pagodas, pavilions, towers, platforms and a number of palaces in the park. Meanwhile, numerous masterpieces on Mount Sanqingshan have been left by countless literary men .

The men have perished as grass and trees, but the cultural heritage lives on forever! The human civilization history since 2000 years embodies itself into an integral part of Nature in Chinese Taoist and harmonious existence between man and nature as well as the aspect of architecture design ( ancient architecture mechanism—direction of Eight Triggrams). This is an epitome of splendid ancient civilization in South China, also an important part of cultural treasure of Chinese nation.

The citizens within the park carry forward the traditions of cherishing the nature and protecting the nature, which is one of important reasons that the natural geoheritages in Mount Sanqingshan have been well-preserved. Since the establishment of the Geopark, the economic income of the citizens have been continuously increased, and their living conditions have been improved, hence the local citizens can protect the geoheritages and landscape resources consciously. All of these have promoted the sustainable development of local social economy . And a traditional harmounious culture of 2000 years' development history have been inherited and developed. The valuable heritages here survived by the Nature will be handed down to our future generations.

6.  A Park for Admiring Nature and Scientific Education
Mt. Sanqingshan exhibits outstanding qualities of a granite mountain in perfect harmony with its ecosystem providing substantial scientific integrity as well as unique aesthetic, artistic and protective values. Qin Mu, the famous Chinese poet regarded the mountain to be quite inspirational “ "the Sanqing Mountain is the home of the clouds, a gallery of pine trees and fantastic rocks, and is a great, natural Chinese painting." Some appraise her as “"Home for cloud and mist, an artistic corridor in pine and stone", other say "Grotesqueness from a grotesque view, elegance hidden in an elegant scene". There is a figurative beauty in the naturally-sculpted granite landscape with landforms varied in shape and pattern and many being remarkably true to life. This unique granite peak forest landscape is further enhanced by beauty of the forest that clothes it . The landscape varies through the seasons with riots of color in spring and autumn, the joiful sound of water running through clefts and gorges and the thundering of waterfalls all set in a hazy beauty of the floating cloud and mist. In 2005, Mt Sanqingshan was the only one chosen by the China National Geography as the outstanding granite peak forest landscape and the most beautiful in China. Professor Tim Kusky, a noteable ganite expert from St. Lois University, United States and Chinese experts in geology also considered Mt Sanqingshan to be the most beautiful granite in the West Circum-Pacific. Mr. Paul Pulitzer, the Chairman of the Foundation for National Parks, United States, passionately appraised "Mt Sanqingshan is one of the very few elite landscapes in the world , a treasure for the whole human race, the home for the human soul".   

Mt Sanqingshan is a large-scale geopark characterized by its outstanding value of natural landscapes, representing the most complex of the granite landscapes in China. For it was inscribed on the National Natural Heritage List in 2006 and the List of World Natural Heritage Nomination Property in March, 2007. Mt Sanqingshan has become the focus of attention of geologists at home and abroad for its long-term history of geological evolution and gorgeous natural landscapes. The tourists from China and overseas have been attracted to the place and lots of geoscientific experts and scholars have been dreaming of it. Indeed, at the 1st International Symposium on Granite Geology and Geomorphology, held in Shangrao City in July, 2006, granite specialists from all over China and from overseas endorse the view that Mt Sanqingshan has the best evolved and most spectacular granite landscape in China.

Mr. Wolfgang Eder:"Sanqingshan is one of the most spectacular areas of the world, I've seen. The harmony of nature(rocks and life) plus culture is wonderful!"

 Prof. Pitor Migon:"Mount Sanqingshan is one of  the most exciting and beautiful places in the world focusing on granite , few if any other world sites can rival Sanqingshan in terms of grandeur, majesty and phantasy of  Mother Nature."

Prof. Tim Kusky:"Mt Sanqingshan presents a stunning array of natural beauty integrating primrval landscapes and pristine flora, unequalled in the western Pacific. Its granite landforms tease the mind with unique blends of natural erosional processes, beautiful trees and forest and relics of the Taoist culture."

Dr Chris Wood:" While there are other notable granite mountains in the world, many of which are established protected areas, none displays such an intriguing and impactful landscape as Mt. Sanqingshan. This mountain combines outstanding geological and geomorphological resources, with internationally important disjunct and relict flora and fauna, making it one of the world's great natural treasures. Every effort should be made to secure international recognition of this unique and special landscape."

Prof. Chen Anze:"Mt Sanqingshan is of great scientific and aesthetic value, its rich resources and high landscape values being of World Geological Park and World Heritage Site quality. Diligent effort should be made to further scientific research and environmental improvements to make it a world-renowned site."

Dr. Cui Zhijiu: The incomparable grotesque and splendid landscapes of Mt Sanqingshan stand distinct from the landscapes of other granite granite mountains in their impact on the soul of the visitor. It is the right place for scietific research, the fruits of which will enable heightened appreciation of the great and unusual beauty of Mt Sanqingshan.

Dr. Yang Yichou:"Mysterious and beautiful Mt Sanqingshan, the green mountain combined with various figurative stone landforms of granite is so stunning that the eye cannot take all in; furthermore, integrated with the rich and colorful biodiversity, the flowing cloud and flying mist, the wonder of light and shade, the holy site of taoism and the relics of revolution, all are acclaimed as a distinctive harmonious integration of nature with culture."

Prof. Hong Dawei:"Mt Sanqingshan, with its elegance of the scene and its charm of landscape, in particular, the peculiar granite peak forest landform, the uncanny workmanship causes people breathtaking; meanwhile as located near the suture zone between two major paleoplates, Mt Sanqingshn  has  a very important scientific value."

Prof. Li Jianghai:"Mt Sanqingshan is an outstanding example representing granite peak forests of China, surely has an irreplaceable position and scientific value among all granite landforms all over the world."  
Mt Sanqingshan Geopark is a valuable heritage of the Nature for the Mankind,which is a classic Chinese painting created by the Nature, a series of aesthetic book for appreciating the natural landscapes, a monumental book showing 1 billion years of evolutionary history of the Earth and a treasure house of harmonious culture between man and nature. Here you can appreciate the fantastic granite landscapes, admire the primitive biogeographic realm spanning over 200 million years' evolution, follow the trail of 1 billion years' evolution of the Earth, seek mysteries of orogenic movement and great changes of  the Earth, and have a taste of the intension of harmonious culture between man and nature.

Since the establishment of Mt Sanqingshan geopark, the protection of landscape of geoheritage and ecological enverionment has been enhanced practically, proper utilization of landscape resource has been made so as to develop tourism, thus successfully helping the residents within the mountain area to cast off poverty and set out on a road to prosperity and promoting sustainable deveolpment of local economic society. The residents within the park and its surroundings support the construction of the park, which has given an impetus to development of regional economic society. Therefore, the park has become a model of protecting geoheritage resources and promoting sustainable development of local social economy.

Our thanks go to the relevant experts such as Mr. Yang Minggui, Mr. Liu Xiyuan, Mr. Ma Zhengxing, Mr. Li Wuxian, Mr. Liu Xingzhong, Mr. Guo Yingrong, Mr. Zhu Guanhai, Mr. Du Bin and Mr. Chris Wood,etal., for this paper synthesizes their reseach concepts and data in the course of writing.

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