Post-meeting field trip 3

The Tatras - rocks, landforms, weathering and soils

Leaders: Ireneusz Felisiak, Janusz Magiera (AGH University of Science and Technology), Marek Drewnik, Irena Jerzykowska (Jagiellonian University)

The Tatras

The Tatra Mountains are the highest part of the Carpathians (Gierlach, 2655 m ASL). These are the most significant, presently non-glaciated mountains in Central Europe within the entire Carpathian Chain. They are located approximately halfway between the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea and between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mts. Thus, they occupy a transitional position between maritime Western Europe and the continental East European lowland.

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Panoramic view of the High Tatras from the Western Tatras. The main ridge of the Tatras is at the left side of the photograph with the Kasprowy Wierch Peak in the central part of the ridge (photo I. Felisiak).

Rocks, mountains and landscape

Well-developed alpine landscape is controlled by two main factors: geological structure of the mountains and their reshaping by the glaciers during the glacial epoch (Pleistocene). Generally, two major units form the Tatras: crystalline core (intrusive granitoids and metamorphic gneiss) and sedimentary cover (mostly carbonates that form several nappes; see geological section below). The W-E "geological" axis of the mountains is undulated. Elevated parts generally consist of granites (the High or Eastern Tatras), while sediments are preserved in depressions (mostly in the Western and Belianskie Tatras). Therefore, the High Tatras are more resistant to dissection and planation and, thus, are higher today, than other parts of the mountains. They were higher at the beginning of Pleistocene too. Larger parts of their flat valley floors were located above the snow line and, thus the glaciers in the High Tatras were longer, thicker and more active than the glaciers in the Western Tatras. As a result of a coincidence of two agents: resistant rocks and intense glacial erosion, the High Tatras reveal today much more high-alpine appearance than the Western and Belianskie Tatras.

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Kasprowy Wierch - Zakopane section


There were 3 or 4 main glacial events in the Tatras, separated by warm, ice-free interglacial periods. However,only the remnants of the last glaciation (Alpine Würm correlated with continental Vistulian, which ended approx. 10 thousand years ago) are seen today in the mountains: cirques, U-shaped and hanging valleys, lateral and terminal moraines, valley shoulders, and infilled proglacial lakes. Traces of older glaciations were almost entirely erased by the youngest glaciers. However, sediments related to them are preserved in the Tatra surroundings (in Podhale, Spisz, Orawa and Liptow).

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The Gasienicowa Valley - general view, glacial relief with intramorrain depressions, some of them occupied by lakes. Podhale Trough in the background (photo I. Felisiak)

Periglacial processes and landforms

Areas free from ice were subjected to intense periglacial processes. Some of these processes, are still active, e.g.: multi-annual and seasonal ground freezing, solifluction, frost sorting, cryoturbation, frost shattering, frost jacking. As a result, solifluction lobes, small thufurs, patterned ground and block fields can be seen high in the mountains (see Stop 4. Liliowe Pass).


The Tatra Mountains reveal well-developed geo-ecological zonation - from the lower mountain zone to the alpine zone, including the vertical zonation of soils. The properties of the soils (morphology, chemistry and taxonomical position) reflect the geo-ecological conditions. The main soil-forming processes on crystalline rocks, organic matter accumulation and podzolisation, are strongly represented. Rendzic Leptosols (Umbric, Humic) dominate on carbonate parent rocks. Muck-like organic matter of the alpine moder (under alpine meadows) and tangelmor type (under dwarf pine communities) occurs and is characterized by a high concentration of organic carbon, and low bulk density. The organic matter is poorly bound with the mineral parts, and the humification index expressed as content is varied. The soils are very acidic and contain considerable amount of pebble and stony rock particles.

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South slope of Beskid Peak (stop 3). Typical soil profile developed on granitoides within an Alpine zone: Leptic Podzol (according to WRB), Spodosol (according to USDA Soil Taxonomy). A well developed iluvic horizon (spodic) is visible (photo M. Drewnik)

Clay minerals

The clay mineralogy of Tatra podzols developed on granitic regolith has been studied in detail in seven podzol profiles, which macroscopically represent different stages of soil development (from very initial at Beskid Mountain to advanced in the Sucha Woda Valley).

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Beskid Peak (stop 3). Dissolution of chloritized biotite from C horizon in a soil thin section (SEM BSE image; photo I. Jerzykowska)

The main processes responsible for clay minerals presence are:

The proposed sequence of dioctahedral mica transformation is as follows: M → R0 M-V (12 or 14 Å) → R0 M-V (12 Å V) → R1 M-V (12 Å V) → 12 Å V → V-S → S. Formation of hydroxy-interlayers were observed in some of the B horizons with pH≥4.4. The process of dissolution of primary silicates was also documented. For more details on the clay aspects of podzolisation in the Tatra Mountains see Skiba (2007).


Skiba M., 2007: Clay mineral formation during podzolisation in an alpine environment of the Tatra Mountains, Poland. Clays and Clay Minerals 55, 529-545.

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Map of the field trip 3

Stop 1. Kuznice

The Cabin Aerial Ropeway to the Kasprowy Wierch Peak

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Stop 2. Kasprowy Wierch Peak

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View of the Kasprowy Wierch Peak, Beskid Peak, Liliowe Pass and Skrajna Turnia Peak (stops 2-5). Podhale Trough in the background, Outer (Flysh) Carpatians on the horizon. Cable car station (arrow) and the Meteorological Observatory at the summit of Kasprowy Wierch Peak (photo I. Felisiak)

Stop 3. Beskid Peak

Two types of pedogenic coatings within spodic horizons (Leptic Podzol - Beskid).

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Clay coating enriched in iron oxides and organic-iron. Microphotograph of undisturbed sample (thin section), plane polarized light (photo M. Drewnik).

Stop 4. Liliowe Pass

Boundary between High and Western Tatras.

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Soil localized within solifluction lobe, buried humus horizons are visible (photo M. Drewnik)

Stop 5. Skrajna Turnia

Pre-Triassic fossil weathering zone developed onto granitoids of the Tatras crystalline core.

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View from the Karb Col towards South - talus and debris slopes at the foot of the Skrajna Turnia (stop 4 - the Liliowe Pass on the right; photo M. Drewnik)

Stop 6. Anisian limestones

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The Middle Triassic (Anisian) limestones beneath the Liliowe Pass with rillenkarren, soil horizon and dwarf pines (photo M. Drewnik).

Stop 7. Sinkhole

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A stream disappearing in granitoid moraine debris underlain by Mesozoic limestones (photo T. Sokolowski)

Stop 8. Karb Col

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View from the Liliowe Pass across the Gasienicowa Valley towards the Karb Col (stop 7, photo M. Drewnik)

Stop 9. Czarny Staw Gasienicowy (Black Lake)

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Debris flows on the Zolta Turnia Peak slopes over the Black Lake (photo T. Sokolowski)

Stop 10. Sucha Woda moraines (optional stop, no photo available)

Duration: 1 day
Start: Saturday, September 27, at 7.30 in front of the Hotel Belvedere in Zakopane
End: Saturday, September 27, at 20.00 in front of the Hotel Belvedere in Zakopane
Height: 1000 m up by cable car; 300 m up and 1300 down on foot (see the photographs)
Horizontal distance: 12 km walk (see the map)
Number of Participants: Minimum: 10; Maximum: 25
Necessary outfit: this is a high-mountain terrain (elevation up to 2000 m a.s.l.), take: mountain boots, wind/rain jacket, gloves and cap, wind resistant umbrella (if available), small rucksack, 2 litres of mineral water or any other non-alcoholic drink and some snacks, chocolate.
Transportation: local mini bus, cable car
Registration: before June 30, 2008
Excursion fee: 50 EUR (includes: transportation, lunch and dinner in the restaurant)
Important note: Fieldtrip fee does not cover your hotel accommodation.
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