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About Madeira : Geography Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM

The "Laurissilva" - A Unesco world heritage site!
By Jorge Barbosa
Jun 6, 2008 - 7:29:56 PM

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The Laurissilva forest with a typical gnarled branch of tree that easliy calls to mind our imagination of what Europe may have looked like 10,000 years ago and beyond.. (Photo courtesy of Henry Veldhoen)
The Laurissilva from a scientific perspective, and how Madeira was "made" along the geological time scale.

The Laurissilva is a geological and natural relic from the Tertiary period on the world geological time scale. That means that the forest grew during the period of geological history when the planet was still forming itself. From the Paleocene epoch through to the pliocene epoch. The Laurissilva as we know it today has been very little tainted across the two epochs of the quaternary period (the current geological period we are living in). That is, until the arrival of man in the late 15th century:
Quaternary (current) Period
Epoch Millions
      of years
Geological events Sea life Land life
Holocene 0.01 to    today Glaciers    recede. Sea level rises. Climate becomes more equable. As now Forests    flourish again. Humans acquire agriculture and technology.
Pleistocene 2.0 - 0.01 Widespread    glaciers melt periodically causing seas to rise and fall. As now Many plant    forms perish. Small mammals abundant. Primitive humans established.
Tertiary    Period 
Epoch Millions
      of years
Geological events Sea life Land life
Pliocene 5.1 - 2.0 Continents    and oceans adopting their present form. Present climatic distribution    established. Ice caps develop. Giant    sharks extinct. Many fish varieties. Some plants    and mammals die out. Primates flourish..
Miocene 24.6 - 5.1 Seas recede    further. European and Asian land masses join. Heavy rain causes massive    erosion. Red Sea opens. Bony fish    common. Giant sharks. Grasses    widespread. Grazing mammals become common.
Oligocene 38.0 - 24.6 Seas    recede. Extensive movements of Earth's crust produce new mountains (e.g.    Alpine-Himalayan chain). Crabs,    mussels, and snails evolve. Forests    diminish. Grasses appear. Pachyderms, canines, and felines develop.
Eocene 54.9 - 38.0 Mountain    formation continues. Glaciers common in high mountain ranges. Greenland    separates. Australia separates. Whales    adapt to sea. Large tropical    jungles. Primitive forms of modern mammals established.
Paleocene 65.0 - 54.9 Widespread    subsidence of land. Seas advance again. Considerable volcanic activity.    Europe and Madeira emerges. Many    reptiles become extinct. Flowering plants    established. Dinosaurs become extinct.

It was at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, about 10 000 years ago, that the Laurissilva forests disappeared from the European mainland and Mediterranean basin. The last glacier across Europe helped decrease the average temperatures across the continent where much of the forests flourished - helping slowly extinguish the lush and subtropical environment existing about that time. Remnants of those forests that have survived are the Laurissilva persisting on the Macaronesian islands of the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Madeira - the Atlantic ocean weather amenable to the humid friendly forests.


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