Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Greater Caucasus Mountains

Sochi, Russia, the site of the current Winter Olympic Games, sits along the east coast of the Black Sea; northeast and east of the city rise the Greater Caucasus Mountains, where alpine events are being held.

The Greater Caucasus Mountains, oriented WNW to ESE, form a high, 800 mile range between the eastern shore of the Black Sea and the western coast of the Caspian Sea.  Their geologic history dates from the late Oligocene and early Miocene Periods, about 28 to 25 million years ago, when they crumpled skyward as the northward moving Arabian Plate compressed the southern edge of the Eurasian Plate (a process that continues today, unleashing frequent earthquakes in the region).  Within the structural anticline of this mountain ridge, crust disruption also favored the development of scattered stratovolcanoes; the largest of these is Mount Elbrus, 18,510 feet, the highest summit in the Greater Caucasus Range.

While most of the Caucasus Ranges have been heavily developed for logging, ranching and mining, the western end of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, near Sochi, has remained relatively pristine and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Endemic species include tur (bighorn sheep), ular (wild turkey), black grouse and the rare Caucasian leopard; among the other wildlife are brown bear, lynx, wild boar, bezoar goats, chamois and Caucasian red deer.