In recent years, communities have begun designating natural areas of geographical significance for protection and conservation. Dubbed "geoparks," these areas have been named locally, nationally and globally.
Geoparks often use an area's natural and cultural heritage to draw attention to issues such as sustainability, climate change and risk of natural disasters. Attention and funds are brought to the area through geotourism, allowing communities to showcase natural areas while protecting them.
UNESCO's global geopark network recently added eight new sites and approved the extension of three existing sites, bringing the total to 147 geoparks in 41 countries. The new geoparks are in Asia, Europe and South America, including Yimengshan UNESCO Global Geopark in China, shown above.
"By raising awareness of the importance of the area's geological heritage in history and society today, UNESCO Global Geoparks give local people a sense of pride in their region and strengthen their identification with the area," says UNESCO.
Here's a look at the newest geoparks.
Kütralkura UNESCO Global Geopark, Chile
Located 435 miles (700 kilometers) south of Santiago, the new global park in Kütralkura, Chile, has some of the world's most extensive volcano activity. The city's name means stone (kura) and fire (kutral) in the language of the indigenous Mapuche people of the area.
The geopark's iconic peaks are mostly comprised of active volcanoes such as Llaima (above), Lonquimay, Tolhuaca and Nevados de Sollipulli, as well as an extinct volcano, the Sierra Nevada. Thick ice sheets that once partially covered the area have been shrinking for the last 20,000 years.
Jiuhuashan UNESCO Global Geopark, China
Jiuhuashan translates to "nine glorious mountains," and four of these mountains have sacred Buddhist temples on their peaks. Situated in the Qingyang County of China’s Anhui province, these mountains are a major source of the water that feeds the Yangtze river system. As recently as 2016, the area and its religious sites drew 9.9 million visitors, which was a major economic contributor to the local communities.
Yimengshan UNESCO Global Geopark, China
Located near Jinan City on the eastern coast of China, the Yimengshan geopark is home to one of Asia's largest kimberlite-type diamond mines. Kimberlites are types of igneous rock, which sometimes contains diamonds. They were the first primary diamonds discovered in China.
The landscape includes castle-shaped land formations called daigu, as well as cultural heritage sites such as the Wanshou Palace from the Zhou dynasty, the 1,500-year-old Marshal tree and several famed temples.
Vis Archipelago UNESCO Global Geopark, Croatia
Before the rise in sea level around 12,000 years ago, these islands off the coast of Croatia were much larger and extended for more than 20 miles. The Vis Archipelago geopark was formed by some of the oldest rock in the Adriatic Sea.
There are large sand deposits in the northeastern region that were created by strong winds during the Ice Age that also formed interesting caves. There are also quarries where the first residents of the island likely produced tools 8,000 years ago. Some of the most famous sites on this archipelago are the Blue Cave (Modra špilja) and the Monk Seal Cave (Medvidina špilja).
Imbabura UNESCO Global Geopark, Ecuador
Known for its many lakes, like Cuicocha above, the Imbabura geopark is located in the northern inter-Andean region of Ecuador. The area is also home to various geological formations, such as the Peguche waterfalls, and its highest point is the Cotacachi Volcano at 16,200 feet (4,939 meters). Ibarra, the province capital, includes colonial towns and indigenous villages, which attract thousands of visitors annually.
Trollfjell UNESCO Global Geopark, Norway
There's a dichotomy in the area's bedrock in the Trollfjell geopark in Norway. There are some long, barren stretches, while other areas are fertile with lush vegetation and rich biodiversity. Naturally occurring soapstone has been taken locally since the Iron Age to make an array of utensils with archaeologists finding quarries dating to the Viking period. Trollfjell’s Solsem Cave features prehistoric rock engravings of dancing stick figures that date back thousands of years.
Colca y Volcanes de Andagua UNESCO Global Geopark, Peru
Formed 400 million years ago, the Colca y Volcanes de Andagua geopark in Peru features the Colca Canyon, above, one of the largest and deepest canyons in the world. The landscape also includes a variety of lakes, geological faults, volcanoes, pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial churches. One of the few places on Earth that contains so many volcanic cones, the area was carved by melting glaciers and lava rivers.
Courel Mountains UNESCO Global Geopark, Spain
The deep valleys and canyons in the Courel Mountains geopark in the northwest region of Spain were formed by erosion. Between the first and second century, it's believed that the Roman Empire operated gold mines in the area, extracting gold assisted by erosion.
The area is home to many Galician communities in small medieval villages and monasteries. There are fragments of Neolithic paintings and prehistoric flora and fauna preserved within the deep caves of the mountains.