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Alps (Celtic "alb" = high, "alpa" = mountains), arc-shaped mountain chain (1,200 km long, 150-250 km wide) running from the Gulf of Genoa to the Danube (area 220,000 km2). The Austrian part of the Alps, which takes up approximately 2/3 of Austria's total area, comprises the largest part of the eastern Alps, as well as northern parts of the southern Alps in the Karnische Alps and southern Karawanken mountains; the geological border between the southern and eastern Alps runs along the Gail Valley and through the Karawanken. The eastern Alps in Austria are divided into the northern and central Alps, which are separated by a line running from Klostertal Valley- Arlberg Mountain- Inntal Valley- Salzachtal Valley to Lake Zeller See-Wagrainer Hoehe- upper Ennstal Valley- Schober Pass- Muerztal Alps- Semmering Mountain- southern Vienna Basin.

As in all of the Alps, the eastern Alps contain rock of all types and all periods, which developed into a high mountain chain through complicated processes in Alpine mountain formation, mainly through mantle tectonics from the Jurassic to the late Tertiary period. In this process, the geological space of the Alps was narrowed by many hundreds of kilometers as a result of plate tectonic processes. In earlier geological times, erosion in the north had moved erosion rubble towards the sea of the molasse zone in the Alpine foothills, and in the east and south towards the Vienna and Pannonian Basins. Finally, the Ice Age gave the Alps their present appearance.

The predominating rock types determine the character of the landscape. In the central Alps, which are composed of crystalline rock types and have the highest peaks (mostly glaciated) in the west, granite and gneiss form straight ridges, slate forms zigzag ridges, while mica schist and quartz phyllite form more gentle shapes. In the northern Alps the Paleozoic slates of the Greywacke zone are characterised (from south to north) by the Alpine pasture and forest soils, which are joined to the north by the Northern Limestone Alps, with their high limestone plateaus and limestone Pre-alps in the northeast, which gradually take on a richly forested, low-mountain character. The Flysch zone, rich in sandstone, then forms the end of the Alps toward the Alpine Foreland.

Grossglockner peak (3797 m), Austria's highest mountain, and the 20 km2 Pasterze glacier are both in the Hohe Tauern. In addition to that, there are almost 1,000 glaciers in Austria and around 860 peaks over 3,000 m, around half of which are in the Oetztal and Stubai Alps (e.g. Wildspitze 3,774 m, Zuckerhuetl 3,507 m).

The Alps also form an important climatic divide and watershed. Due to strong westerly winds, the western and northern edges of the Alps are predominantly influenced by the Atlantic climate with its heavy precipitation, while the eastern part of the Alps is under the influence of the dry, Pannonian inland climate of Hungary and the southern slopes are characterised by the mild Mediterranean climate. In the peripheral zones and higher altitudes, precipitation is heavier (2,000-3,000 mm) than in the inner Alps and in the East. Some valleys and basins are decidedly dry. The frequency and amount of precipitation rise with the altitude up to around 2,400-2,800 m then begin to decline at higher altitudes. "Cold-air lakes" with temperature Inversion can be found in closed-off Alpine basins in the interior.

The highest grain farming line is located in the Hohe Tauern at 1,524 m; winemaking is common at the eastern edge of the Alps Alpenostrand, and maize and fine fruits are grown in foehn areas. The agricultural zone is followed by the deciduous and mixed forest zone (beech, Austrian pine and others), followed by the coniferous forest zone (spruce, fir, larch, Swiss stone pine), the 200-300 m wide knee timber belt (dwarf pine, green alder) and then the Alpine pastures. The forest line is at an altitude of 1400-1970 m, the treeline at 1,500-2,100 m. Between 2,700 and 2,900 m, glaciers ( Glacier) begin to appear.

The Alps are rich in passes and crossings. The longitudinal valleys are generally broad and open, creating favourable circumstances for settlement, business and transport (Salzach River-Ennstal Valley furrow, Drautal Valley), while the cross valleys are more narrow and more difficult to settle in. One important transport line is the Mur River - Muerz River furrow connecting Vienna- Semmering mountain- Muerz- Mur- Klagenfurt Basin and on to Northern Italy.

While tourism dominates the economies of the western region, the Greywacke zone of the Eastern Alps, which runs east towards Semmering Pass and contains iron ore, has been utilized for iron and steel production. In the high valleys, timber processing and animal husbandry are dominant.

The admiration of the beauty of the Alps and the development of Alpine tourism began in the 19th century in the early stages of Mountaineering and Skiing. Tourism (biseasonal, mainly in winter) has developed into the most important sector of the economy in the Alpine region.

Further reading#

W. Baetzing (ed.), Die Alpen im Europa der 90er Jahre, 1991; R. Oberhauser (ed.), Der geologische Aufbau Oesterreichs, 1980; A. Tollmann, Geologie von Oesterreich, 3 vols., 1977-1986; D. Bartsch, Alpen und Alpenvorland, 1988.