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Chart-topping rocks: UK's 'Greatest Geosites' announced

By Jonathan Webb
Science reporter, BBC News

image copyrightSIMON BOOTH/SPL
image captionThe island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides was the most popular "adventurous" site; its basalt columns form dramatic shapes including famous Fingal's Cave

The Geological Society of London has named its top 100 geological sites in the UK and Ireland, including 10 "people's favourites".

The list, compiled into an online clickable map, marks the start of Earth Science Week.

Categories for the popular vote included landscapes, outcrops and coastlines, as well as industrial and educational sites.

Stonehenge, Glencoe and Scarborough's Rotunda Museum were among the winners.

image copyrightGeological Society
image captionThe remarkable formations exposed at Millook Haven in Cornwall were voted the top "folding and faulting" site

The society took public nominations for its list of top "geosites", which are described as "anything which highlights the importance of geology to our lives".

More than 400 different suggestions flooded in, mostly via social media. On Twitter, contributors used the hashtag #100geosites.

Among the final 100 selected by the Geological Society are cliffs and outcrops, peaks and ranges, quarries and mines, cathedrals, rivers, tunnels, caves, coves and islands.

image copyrightBritish Geological Survey
image captionAssynt in the Scottish Highlands, home to the dramatic peak Suilven, won the popular vote in the "landscape" category
image copyrightThinkstock
image captionCarved from layers of red sandstone, Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, was also nominated in the landscape category

"The list highlights the huge range of incredible geology the UK and Ireland have to offer," said Prof Rob Butler from the University of Aberdeen, who chairs the society's Geoconservation Committee.

"From the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall, from rocks showing how the crust formed billions of years ago to young sediments pushed around by ice sheets a few thousand years ago, we are unique in having such a diverse geological heritage over a relatively small area."

To identify 10 popular favourites, the society split the nominations into 10 categories, such as places of scientific or industrial importance, educational sites like museums and field-trip favourites, and prime examples of "folding and faulting" or "fire and ice" in the UK and Ireland's geological past.

More than 1,200 people then voted in the poll.

image copyrightDAVID TAYLOR/SPL
image captionThe Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, site of the first iron bridge of its kind, won the category for a site of "industrial and economic importance"
image copyrightGeological Society
image captionAlso nominated in the economic category was the 130m-deep Delabole Quarry in Cornwall, which has been producing slate since the early 1600s
image copyrightJeff J Mitchell/Getty
image captionGlencoe in the Scottish Highlands, the remains of a super volcano since shaped by glaciers, won the "fire and ice" category
image copyrightDavid Nunuk/SPL
image captionIn the category for sites of human habitation, Stonehenge won the vote
image copyrightScarborough Museums Trust
image captionThe "educational" site category was won by the Rotunda Museum, built next to Scarborough's popular foreshore in 1829
image copyrightGeological Society
image captionThe "Lulworth crumple" on the Jurassic Coast, venue for countless geological field trips, was also nominated as an educational site

These were the most popular geosites in each of the 10 categories:

  1. Landscape: Assynt in the Scottish Highlands, where the remarkable Suilven and other peaks were shaped by glaciation.
  2. Industrial and economic importance: Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, site of much early mining and industry, named after the pioneering bridge that spans the Severn River.
  3. Historical and scientific importance: Siccar Point in Berwickshire, the most famous example of Hutton's Unconformity (a junction between rock strata where the older layers underwent erosion before the younger layers were deposited).
  4. Educational: Rotunda Museum, Scarborough, built in 1829 in a design suggested by the "father of English geology", William Smith.
  5. Adventurous: Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, a volcanic island famous for its hexagonal basalt columns.
  6. Human habitation: Stonehenge, the iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire.
  7. Coastal: Hunstanton Cliffs in Norfolk, noted for their contrasting, colourful layers and many fossils.
  8. Outcrops: Craster, Northumberland, where the Great Whin Sill can be seen supporting Dunstanburgh Castle, alongside other formations like Greymare Rock.
  9. Folding and faulting: Millook Haven, part of a section of Cornwall's north coast where spectacularly folded beds of sandstone and shale are exposed.
  10. Fire and ice: Glencoe, one of Scotland's most famous valleys. Cut by a glacier during the last ice age, it runs between steep mountains left over from an ancient super volcano.
image copyrightThinkstock
image captionHunstanton Cliffs in Norfolk, with their distinctive red limestone and white chalk layers, won the "coastal" vote
image copyrightGeological Society
image captionThe winning site of "historical or scientific importance" was Siccar Point, with its classic "unconformity" of adjacent horizontal and vertical rock beds
image copyrightGeological Society
image captionThe Ring of Gullion, a classic "ring dyke" that spans the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, was also nominated for its scientific importance
image copyrightThinkstock
image captionThe "outcrops" winner was Craster in Northumberland, where Dunstanburgh Castle perches atop the Whin Sill formation, which also supports stretches of Hadrian's Wall
image copyrightThinkstock
image captionThe balancing formations of Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate in North Yorkshire, were also nominated in the outcrops category

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