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Malta Diary How fresh water and green is my valley?


One of my greatest delusions has been retirement. I am now nearing 76 and was brought up in an era when retirement was pictured as a happy and tranquil state after a lifetime of hard work, a time when one could put one’s feet up, live a life of comfort, listening to song birds and watching the sun rise and set in all its splendour.

Obviously times have changed and I never dreamt of a life of pandemic anxiety and now war raging in a part of Europe. Among other anxieties this has brought about economic and financial difficulties – and loaded on top of these an acute psoriasis arthritis for which there is no cure, added to which vascular problems now leading to the need for vascular bypass intervention.


However, there have been some positive developments because I have had more time for study and research, thankfully aided by the internet which is a font of knowledge – if put to good use! I have learnt a wealth of new things about matters I never knew and did not even surmise.

One of these was recently when I came to know about MARCAN, a five-year research project which is funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant and investigates the role of offshore groundwater in some continental areas.


The MARCAN team includes scientists and researchers from the University of Malta, the New Zealand Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment, the US National Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation and the European Research Council.

It is led by Maltese scientist Professor Aaron Micallef from Malta University.


Never, ever, in a hundred years, did I dream that in most continental sea bay areas, there are sediments on the seabed and under these, just 20 metres below the seabed, there may be caches of freshwater as large as two hundred cubic kilometres of freshwater.

This freshwater is derived from rainfall replenished by groundwater flows, the majority trapped during three Ice Ages when sea levels were 100 metres lower than they are today. Now, research is being carried out to see whether this fresh water supply can be extracted and put to good use in areas where fresh water is much needed.


Now, an international team of scientists from MARCAN, led by Aaron Micallef, has documented a unique type of valley in the Maltese Islands. This valley, which has a theatre-shaped head, wide and flat bed, and vertical side slopes, is formed by groundwater seepage rather than erosion by surface water, which is the case for most valleys worldwide.

There are thirty valleys formed by groundwater on Malta and Gozo, with the most prominent examples located in Mgarr (including Gnejna Valley) in Malta, Mellieha and Nadur in Gozo. There are an additional twenty three such valleys on the seafloor, mostly located offshore of the north-eastern coast of Malta and Gozo. There are a number of important implications associated with this discovery. First, this is the first time that groundwater seepage has been demonstrated to form valleys in rock. These valleys therefore deserve additional protection in view of their uniqueness.


In addition, these valleys can be used to reconstruct environmental and water conditions in the past, which is very useful in places where the geological record is poor, such as in desert environments or potentially even Mars, where similar valleys have been documented.

The downside is that the scientists show that the valleys are retreating at a rate of about two cm per year in the form of block landslides. This is an important consideration when assessing the hazard associated to these valleys, especially for owners of fields located above or within the valleys.


In Malta’s case the research showed that some of the rocks in the Gnejna Valley have been exposed to the elements for about 20,000 years.

Professor Aaron Micallef explained the process through which these freshwater valleys are formed. This involves fresh water flowing out of the cracks in the rock, widening the cracks, eroding the stones and making them weaker. Gradually, boulders fall which are then carried away by the clay slowly and this forms a slightly weird shaped valley, not the valley we call ‘V shaped’, but one which has a wider head, almost vertical walls and wider walls. Micallef said Malta has 30 of these in the Maltese islands and 23 more were found beneath the sea as well.


Professor Micallef said that rock samples were taken from various parts of the valley in Gnejna, for further study in the United States and from there it transpired that some of these rocks have long been exposed to elements for about 20,000 years.

The process is ongoing, they are still forming now, some two centimetres per year, which is important for people who are walking there and who use these valleys for leisure or who have some property nearby them because unfortunately it is being eaten slowly.

He called for greater protection of these valleys, because these they are rare around the world, some of them to be found in Saudi Arabia.



E/mail – salina46af@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jerome.fenech

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A penny is a shilling

Used in the old days to underline that a penny given to a beggar may not be much but for him it is a shilling. An expression also that was used in fairground gaming wheels, a penny pledged may result in a shilling won.

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