Natural paradises in danger to be saved: The Stone Forest



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Natural paradises in danger to be saved: The Stone Forest

The Stone Forest, or Shilin, is made up of clusters of stalagmite-style limestone formations. The famous rocks that make up the forest are said to resemble people, lions, birds and trees. Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased precipitation of acid rain, which accelerates the deterioration of karst formations.

According to legend, the forest is the birthplace of Ashima, a beautiful girl from the Yi People. After she fell in love with her, she was forbidden to marry the suitor she had chosen and conversely, her refusal turned her into a stone in the middle of a forest that still retains her name today.

Every year on the day of the sixth lunar month, many Yi people celebrate the Torch Festival, which includes traditional dances and wrestling competitions. The Stone Forest area was a shallow sea some 270 million years ago.

Extensive deposits of sandstone overlain by limestone accumulated in this basin during the Permian period of geologic time. Uplift of this region occurred subsequent to deposition. The Major and Minor Stone Forests are developed in the nearly pure limestone of the Permian Makou Formation.

The Naigu Stone Forest, 9 km northeast of the Major Stone Forest, is developed in dolomite and dolomitic limestone of the Permian Qixia Formation. The Maokou Formation at Stone Forest appears to have been heavily altered diagenetically, and macroscopic fossil remains are seldom seen.

At least one zone of chert nodules occurs in the limestone, Unlike in the dolomitic Qixia Formation, dolomite in the Maokou Formation seldom ranges above 3%. The distribution, density and orientation of the fractures controlled the depth, size and orientation of the karst topography.

Sandstones and shales of the Liangshan Formation that lies below the carbonate rock formations serve as a permeability barrier and force the local groundwater to flow from west to east. The tall rocks seem to arise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites, or with many looking like petrified trees, thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone.

Since 2007, two parts of the site, the Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the South China Karst.