New Burren Map
 Geology Matters No 8
Introduction Director's Discourse The Role of Geoscience in Society World Geoscience Conference International Co-operation and Agreements Griffith Geoscience Research Awards 2008 - International Year of Planet Earth GeoUrban Dublin Project New Burren Map IYPE/Du Noyer Competition Launch of INFOMAR Website and Product Range Mapping Potential Landslide Hazards Groundwater Vulnerability Mapping An Intern's Life

New Burren Map

Ray Scanlon

The new map, “Landscape and Rocks of the Burren”, is the first in a new GSI series of geotourism maps planned for areas of outstanding landscape and geological heritage. This map series will build on the recently completed 1:100,000 scale Bedrock Map Series. The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), as part of its remit, has an educational function which seeks to reach beyond its professional clients to the wider public in order to convey the key message that geology underpins the physical basis of our society – where it lives, works and plays. GSI also reaches out to schools, many of which hold geography field excursions to the Burren. The new map celebrates this special landscape and the rocks which are its foundation.

Cliffs of Moher

The Burren is a very special place, noted for its rocky limestone landscape, special flora, lack of surface water and caves. The name “Burren” means a “stony place” and the absence of soil over much of the area is notable. At least 60% of the Burren is bare rock or rough pasture. Archaeological features are also abundant demonstrating a long history of human habitation despite the unpromising thin soils and lack of surface water. The Burren is a fragile and dynamic landscape. Most of the glacial deposits were removed during the Ice Age exposing the underlying limestones to karstic solution processes. Later on man cut down the trees which had protected the remaining thin soils from erosion, further accelerating solution of the limestones. It has been estimated that at the current solution rate some 53m of limestone will be removed in the next million years. Changing agricultural practices have also affected the landscape, with the spread of hazel and blackthorn scrub occurring because of a decrease in cattle-grazing in recent years. The unique flora also depend on grazing for their preservation as well as the limestone, both for nutrients and shelter from the Atlantic winds, in joints or fissures called grikes, that jut into the limestone pavement.

So what does the map show and tell us? It shows the distribution of the limestones and succeeding sandstones and shales which were deposited in an ancient sea. These rocks are almost flat-lying and so the various rock formations almost follow the contours of the topography to form a layer cake sequence with the youngest rocks at the top on Slieve Elva. The rocks record geological history going back some 340 million years to the Carboniferous Period – a time when Ireland, as a result of plate tectonic processes, was situated in the tropics and lay under a shallow tropical sea where marine animals and shellfish lived, died and broke up to form the constituent grains of the limestones of the Burren. These limestones record the rise and fall of sealevel, the deposition of volcanic ash which accumulated and weathered to form soils when the area was above sea-level and was then buried under further limestones deposited when sea-level rose again and drowned the area. We now know that these sea-level changes were due to global warming melting glaciers in the southern hemisphere. So the Burren can inform us of the consequences of climate change, albeit that the causes were due to natural cyclical changes rather than accelerated by human intervention as now. The information on the back of the map also explains how the rocks were formed and describes the karstic landforms resulting from the solution of limestones due to weakly acidic rain. For the tourist and student there are descriptions of geological features to visit and interpretive centres and other interesting places to visit, where some of the wider botanical and archaeological heritage of the Burren can be seen.

The detailed bedrock mapping of the Burren, on which this map is based, was almost entirely undertaken by one Geological Survey geologist, the late Conor MacDermot who died prematurely in 2001. His knowledge of the geology, botany and archaeology of the Burren was extensive and it is hoped that his appreciation of the landscape will be conveyed to others through this map.

NEW Online Shop for GSI Publications!

Ray Scanlon

GSI has launched a new online service for customers wishing to purchase our maps, books or booklets. Simply visit or click on the Online Shop text on the banner of the GSI website

The full range of publications currently in print is shown and customers can purchase products securely online with credit or debit cards.

A simple registration process is required in order to complete a transaction. Once a customer is registered, they can then apply for a student or distributor’s discount. Please email for further details of discounts.

Burren map

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