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The Burren: Limestone Pavements, Clints and Grykes

As the ice-cap moved into the Burren from the north-east it carried with it some debris, such as the granite boulders (Glacial erratics) on the coast line. However, the main action of the glacier was to scour the rock clean off any superficial cover that formerly may have lain on the surface, thus exposing and smoothly polishing the underlying bedrock which we know today as the largest classic karst limestone pavements in these islands. Pavements are made up of two separate but integral parts known as clints and grykes. Clints are the blocks of limestone that constitute the paving, their area and shape is directly dependant upon the frequency and pattern of grykes. Grykes are the fissures that isolate the individual clints. The most dominant gryke system runs almost north to south and there is a secondary less-developed system at right angles to it.

Grykes can stretch for hundreds of feet until they suddenly terminate or are lost beneath superficial deposits. Grykes are usually straight but are occasionally curvilinear.

Burren Flagstone
Burren Flagstone

Water is the dynamic of the Burren, water created it, and water is destroying it. This destruction can be seen in some of the clints where the water draining from the horizontal top is cutting deep channels or runnels into the shoulders of the clint, thus directing the water into the gryke where it will eventually widen the gryke and undermine the clint itself. On some clint tops one will see small saucer shaped depressions or shallow pans. These pools hold water, and can hold a layer of organic material, which includes algae called Nostoc. This algae exudes a mild acid which further breaks down the limestones, and so an even larger depression is formed which will eventually hold a colony of soil capable of sustaining a disparate assemblage of plants and grasses.

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