Berca Mud Volcanoes in Romania are the largest volcanoes of this type in Europe. In 1924 it was placed under protection as a nature reserve of national importance. They are also included in the European Natura 2000 network of protected areas. They lie at an altitude of 341 m above sea level and are divided into three main areas.There are 65 sources of mud flows in the Pâclele Mici area. The largest, main volcano is 15 meters high.
The first observed and described eruptions took place here in 1881. In the 20th century, the largest eruption took place in 1976, when the mud was thrown up to a height of about 100 cm all day long, and within a few months of activity the amount of silt discharged was estimated at 5 thousand tons.
As the gases erupt from 3000 metres deep towards the surface, through the underground layers of clay and water, they push up underground salty water and mud, so that they overflow through the mouths of the volcanoes, while the gas emerges as bubbles. The mud dries off at the surface, creating a relatively solid conical structure resembling a real volcano. The mud expelled by them is cold, as it comes from inside the Earth’s continental crust layers, and not from the mantle.
The reservation is unique in Romania. Elsewhere in Europe, similar phenomena can be observed in Italy (northern Apennines and Sicily), Ukraine (in the Kerch Peninsula), Russia (in the Taman Peninsula) as well as Azerbaijan.
There are several sites (the main tourist sites being Pâclele Mari and Pâclele Mici), and gas analysis shows that the composition varies from site to site, but is mainly methane, with approximately 2% carbon dioxide, and 2–15% nitrogen.
The mud volcanoes create a strange lunar landscape, due to the absence of vegetation around the cones. Vegetation is scarce because the soil is very salty, an environmental condition in which few plants can survive. However, this kind of environment is good for some rare species of plants, such as Nitraria schoberi and Obione verrucifera as these plants can survive the high salt levels in the soil.
The phenomenon can be observed on two separate locations near the Berca commune, dubbed the Little Mud Volcanoes and The Big Mud Volcanoes. The volcanoes themselves are surrounded by ‘badlands’ of water-cut ravines. Admission fees are charged (4 RON/adult in 2017) and (since you’re walking on a crust of dried mud that is not entirely solid yet and will most likely never be solid) access is only permitted on dry days to prevent destruction of the unique environment.
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