Feature: Denmark's white cliff rises to fame after being listed as UNESCO Heritage site


by Xinhua writer Wu Bo

COPENHAGEN, July 19 (Xinhua) -- Denmark's Stevns Klint cliff, recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is attracting a growing number of visitors from home and abroad with its unique charm and special geological significance.

In late June, the white cliff, located on the east coast of Denmark's Zealand island, was included into the UNESCO World Heritage list together with the Danish part of the Wadden Sea.

"Virtually unknown in the past, the cliff seems to have become famous overnight," Tove Damholt, a geologist and the director of Oestsjaellands Museum in Stevns Municipality, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Damholt said huge number of tourists had swarmed in ever since and there were tourists who had even changed their scheduled itinerary in Denmark and made a special trip to Stevns Klint.

"It is just like Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of The Ugly Duckling," she added.


According to Damholt, the 15-km-long cliff is quite unique as it illustrates the most spectacular global mass extinction event in the history of the Earth -- the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. At the boundary more than half of all living Cretaceous species became extinct, including non-avian dinosaurs and large marine reptiles.

Furthermore, Stevns Klint forms the best exposed Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary section in the world with the exceptional boundary layer being easily recognizable immediately beneath a pronounced topographic overhang, which separates the underlying soft Cretaceous Chalk from the overlying harder Paleogene limestone.

The distinct dark boundary clay is the only clay layer in the cliff and is typically up to some 10 cm thick. But at a single locality in the northern part of the cliff, it reaches up to about 30 cm.

Although tucked away in unassuming villages, the cliff has played a significant role in the international study of the causes of mass extinction and the effect of extraterrestrial impact on life on the Earth, as it is among the original study localities that first led scientists to the hypothesis of an asteroid impact as a cause for mass extinction, Damholt explained.

Back to 1978, the American geologist Walter Alvarez traveled to Stevns Klint to collect a sample of the boundary clay. He found out the enrichment of iridium, a platinum group metal that is rare in the Earth's crust and almost exclusively reaches the Earth from space, was even higher than that recorded in the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary in Gubbio, Italy.

Thereby, the Stevns Klint sample confirmed that the iridium enrichment at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary was indeed a global phenomenon and formed the basis for the new theory that the mass extinction 66 million years ago was caused by an asteroid impact.


The small village Hoejerup by the cliff is the classic place to experience Stevns Klint and also the place where scientists gather to study the mass extinction.

Looking down from the old church in Hoejerup, which sits on the very edge of Stevns Klint, visitors can get a spectacular view of the white cliff, which is just like a flawless jade embedded in the Baltic coast.

Along the sea, the many landslides have left fantastic formations not found elsewhere.

Damholt told Xinhua that the museum had witnessed more than 50 percent increase in the number of tourists since the designation. To cope with the pressure, a high quality visit center will be built in the near future to provide visitors a better travel experience.

Besides, a buffer zone is defined so as to better protect and manage the World Heritage site, she said.

To strike a balance between tourism promotion and environmental protection, Damholt said the focal point is that tourism should be developed in a sustainable way.

"Nature and environment have to be well protected so that social development can take place on a sustainable basis with respect for human living conditions and for the preservation of fauna and flora," she said.