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Author(s) of the publication: G. UFIMTSEV

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by Gennady UFIMTSEV, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Institute of the Earth Crust, RAS Siberian Branch (Irkutsk)

Paintings of mountains by Chinese artists seem to be unreal and exaggerated to most of our geologists and geomorphologists who are used to Siberian landscapes and the alpine relief of the Altai and the Caucasus. But when one approaches the town ofGuilin in the South China province of Guangxi (Guangxi- Zhuang Autonomous Region of China) one observes an even more fantastic landscape. I, for one, happened to be there thanks to our program of cooperation with geological experts of the

China University of Earth Sciences and the Technical University of Guilin.

As one approaches the town from the north, one is struck by the sight of some really strange and fantastic mountains in the form of towers, steep cones and cupolas isolated from one another. The line of horizon assumes a truly unusual pattern so that you begin to appreciate the truth of the Chinese saying which hails the mountains and rivers ofGuilin as the most beautiful in the world.

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As different from the "common" mountains in which the position of prominence belongs to young tectonic uplifts, accompanied by river erosion and the activities of valley glaciers, the strange massifs of Guilin are the product of karst processes (dissolution of carbonate rock and the washing out of the dissolved material). These mountains offer a striking example of the so-called denuded (surface) tropical karst which prevails in this case on the Devonian and carboniferous limestones of the deformed mantle of the South-Chinese platform. The distant copies thereof are the Lena pillars and the picturesque rocky slopes of the valleys of the Aldan, Olenek and other rivers crossing the Siberian platform.

Our acquaintance with the landscapes of Guilin began with the Ludi cave - a chain of underground halls with high arched ceilings. Watching sinters and incrustations in one of these halls, one can imagine himself looking at a host of images in the spirit of Goya's "Capriccios". Two types of stalagmites prevail: flat and feather-like, forming a kind of fringed curtains or cornices along crevices, and stalagmites forming groups upon a common base in the shape of an upturned plate suspended from the ceiling - a kind of intricate stone lampshade.

But to come back to the mountains. They are here all over the place: in the center, over the banks of the Li River (the Guijiang on our geographical maps), which crosses Guilin. Saturating the surrounding area and flanking the city, they produce a typical toothed line of horizon. One is attracted by the sight of rock towers more than 100 m high and with practically vertical walls. One of them towers over the city center and right over the bank of the Li River.

A peculiar kind of karst mountains within the city limits are the monoclinal forms, grouped into chains. In the city's south two rows of monoclinal peaks are located in parallel and facing each other with steep slopes. The core of the anticline is missing - it has been completely dissolved.

An excursion down the river offers a complete picture of the diverse landscape of the denuded tropical karst of Guangxi including its seemingly minor details.

The main and most striking element of this landscape are its tower mountains from 350 to 400 m high which look like a combination of prisms, cylinders and pyramids. They rest upon more gently sloping sides, a kind of pedestals forming the first geomorphological level. This

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most likely includes the high (40-45 m) flood-plain terrace of the Li and the local valleys with hanging junctions.

The second geomorphological level includes mainly the low Hood valley of the Li and its tributaries. This also includes the steep rock-steps, resting upon the present-day bottom of the valley and, possibly, the terraces over the flood-plain.

The mountains drop towards the river with vertical stone slopes some 150-200 m high. Their foundations are either under the water or covered with hillside debris. Further down the river there opens up an extended system of rock walls. Five bats with small cornices of hanging stalactites 1.0-1.3 m long. The rocks have reverse (negative) slopes, and in their bases, submerged into the river, there are many long niches up to 3 m high which penetrate into the massif to the depth of up to 5 m.

The limestones of the bank cliffs are often specked with caverns. Picturesque plates of such porous rock adorn the squares and gardens of Guilin. The degree of cavernous structure of the bank rock varies from practically massif to honeycomb. They kind of demonstrate the initial stages of the separation of the native relief into massive towers-mountains and the depression between them with plenty of fissures promoting the rapid dissolution of the bedrock.

The formation of the tower mountains landscape is really unusual. In a standard situation erosional landscape is formed and functions in the following "pattern": weathering of massive, or solid, rock producing a friable sedimentary cover, or mantle, movements thereof along the slopes and the washing out of the debris by river currents. In Guangxi all of these processes are of a "supplementary" nature. And the main one is the dissolution of the limestones and the washing out of the debris in a dissolved state. What we call chemical runoff absolutely prevails. That is why the Li is so strikingly different from other rivers of China. Its water is really crystal-clear - a far cry from the Huang He River which is more like a torrent of silt with a minimal volume of water.



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