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What is the mystery Burren 'footprint'?

An intrigued Google Earth user thought they saw something strange on an image of County Clare’s historic Burren area. But what did the ‘footprint’ turn out to be?

The 'footprint' as seen on Google Earth
The 'footprint' as seen on Google Earth
Image: Dunphy PR/Google Earth via Google Earth

A MYSTERIOUS ‘FOOTPRINT’ seen in a Google Earth image of the Burren in County Clare left some people wondering about its origin.

Today comes the news that strange mystery has been resolved – and there is a more ‘pedestrian’ solution than what had been assumed.

A member of the public sent the image of the ‘footprint’ to the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark last week, and it was investigated by Geopark geologist Dr Eamon Doyle.

The site of the geological feature is located on the north Clare coast between Doolin village and Ballyrean, a location made famous in storyteller Eddie Lenihan’s tales about the legendary Finn and the Fianna.

Dr Doyle said that the image is that of a doline, which can be formed by solution of the limestone by rainwater or the collapse of underground caverns or rivers.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dr Doyle said that he received the email and knew quite quickly what it might be. “I’m used to looking at the Burren,” he explained, adding that the ‘footprint’ “was an odd shape”. To make sure that it definitely was a doline, he went out to take a fresh look at the area yesterday to be certain.

Dr Doyle said he welcomed such emails as they show the level of interest people have in the area.

Hopefully it will mean more people will be sending in stuff like that. It might have been something I haven’t seen before. I might have found something different.

He added that archaeologists use Google Earth “quite a bit” and it is a helpful tool. His work at the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark involves promoting the area and “trying to show the connection between everything but in a sustainable way”.

He and the other staff there want to make the Burren as accessible as possible for people.

As for the footprint, it is not much to see from the ground, and “looks much better from high up”, said Dr Doyle. “You have to see it from that angle,” he explained, but pointed out that “you never know what else you are going to see” at the Burren, which is “full of various flowers and glacial erratics”.

Dr Doyle said of the ‘carbon footprint’:

Dolines are bowl-shaped, enclosed depressions in the land surface that can be several metres to several hundreds of metres wide. They can form by the dissolution of limestone from the surface downwards, or by the collapse of overlying rock into a cave, or by a combination of these processes.

He added that there are at least 1,500 Dolines in the Burren that have an area greater than 100 m2.

Most of these larger Dolines occur in the east of the Burren. This is because large dolines take tens of thousands of years to form; the eastern parts of the Burren have been affected by dissolution longer than the west. However, the footprint-shaped Doline in this image was discovered in the west of the region, just a few hundred yards from the Atlantic coastline.

Dr Doyle said that it is thought that some of the larger enclosed depressions in the Burren began to form when the area was still covered by shale.

A river or rivers flowing over the shale eventually cut down into the limestone underneath and would have been diverted underground. Once even a small window of limestone was exposed, it would have been gradually enlarged by dissolution from runoff.

The Burren also is home to Europe’s largest doline, which is called the Carran Depression. It is one of the oldest features in the Burren landscape and is believed to have developed before the last ice age 2 million years ago.

To find out more about the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, visit the official website www.burren.ie or the official Facebook site.

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