Maltese archipelago consists of three inhabited islands, namely Malta,
Gozo and Comino, and a number of uninhabited islets: Kemmunett,
Filfla, Selmunett (St. Paul´s Islands) and Fungus Rock, together
with some large rocks, among them Il-Gebla tal-Halfa and Hagret il-Fessej.
The Maltese Islands are
a group of small, low-lying islands situated almost at the centre of the
The sea between Malta and Sicily (the Sicilian Channel) is generally less than 90m in depth, although the maximum depth reaches nearly 200m. The Malta Channel, between Malta and North Africa, is deeper and at some points reaches depths in excess of 1000m.
The islands are composed of sedimentary rocks, mostly limestones, which were laid down in the sea during the Oligo - Miocene period. This accounts for the presence of large numbers of marine plant and animals fossils in Maltese rocks. These are the remains of organisms such as a algae, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans and fish which were preserved in bottom sediments which later became rock. The five principal types of rock exposed are listed below in order of decreasing age:
Coralline Limestone -
|Maltese types of rock|
The material making up the soil is very similar to that forming the rocks. The different soil types present are derived from Coralline Limestone, Blue Clay, Globigerina Limestone and the Quaternary deposits.
Three main soil types
are encountered in Malta: Terra soils, Xerorendzina soils and Carbonate
Raw soils. Although these can still be found in the areas where they were
originally formed from the underlying rocks, extensive movement of soil
by humans took place over the years, so that it is now possible to find
a mixture of all soil types in the same locality.
Map of the Maltese Islands
Rain, wind, storms, wave
action and ceaseless temperature fluctuations, together with geotectonic
movements, have played a great part over the years in the formation of
the Maltese Islands as we know them. Erosion of the different types of
rock led to the creation of a characteristic topography.
The islands have an inclination
from the southwest, where the highest points are found, towards the northeast,
where the land slopes gently into the sea. The islands lack montains,
the highest point Ta´Zuta, near Dingli Cliffs, which is 253m above
sea level. The highest point in Gozo - Ta´Dbiegi - has an altitude
of 191m. Lakes and rivers are lacking, with only a few freshwater springs
to be found.
The topography of Gozo is more complex, and is marked by a number of hilly plateaux formed from Upper Coralline Limestone, between which are plains where erosion has exposed the Globigerina Limestone. The hillsides are covered with clay slopes, while the plains slope away into valleys.
The Maltese Climate is typically Mediterranean with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Annual rainfall is very variable, the average for the last 40years being 53cm. The wet season lasts from October to March, with about 85% of the rain falling in this period. The period from April to September constitutes the dry season.
Temperatures are moderate, the average being 18.8°C, with the monthly average ranging from 12.3° to 26.3°C. Relative humidity is high throughout the year, generally between 65-80%. Malta is renowned for its sunshine, and days in which the sun does not appear are few and far between. The mean daily hours of sunshine is 8.5. Windy conditions are the norm, with only about 8% windless days in the year. The prevailing wind is the mistral or northwesterly, which blows on 18% of windy days. Other wind directions are more or less equally represented.
Natural water resources are totally dependent on rainwater which percolates through the rock and forms underground reservoirs (aquifers). From here it seeps through cracks and fissures, or else is pumped up by man. It is believed that between 16% and 25% of the annual rainfall finds its way into the rocks to form these natural subterranean water reserves. The major water source is found in the Globigerina and Coralline Limestone layers at sea level. Fresh water percolates through the rock and, being lighter, floats on the salty water which infiltrates from the sea.
Other water reserves are found on clay strata which trap the water percolating through the rocks above. Where the Coralline and Clay layers are exposed together at the surface, water from these reserves seeps out of the aquifer and flows downhill, forming streamlets which meander through the valley watercourses. In the past, many of these springs flowed all the year around, although their output was reduced considerably during the summer months. Nowadays many of them have dried up completely because of overpumping of water from underground sources or diversion for other uses, mainly irrigation.
During the last fifty years, many valleys have been dammed for the catchment and storage of rainwater for irrigation. More recently, many farmers have excavated large reservoirs over clay strata in order to store rainwater to be used for irrigation during the dry period.
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