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The Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
or Central Plateau (German: Schweizer Mittelland; French: plateau suisse; Italian: altopiano svizzero) is one of the three major landscapes in Switzerland
Switzerland
alongside the Jura Mountains
Jura Mountains
and the Swiss Alps. It covers about 30% of the Swiss surface area. It comprises the regions between the Jura and the Alps, partly flat but mostly hilly, and lies at an average height between 400 and 700 m AMSL. It is by far the most densely populated region of Switzerland, and the most important with respect to economy and transportation.

Contents

1 Geography 2 Geology

2.1 Geological layers 2.2 Molasse

2.2.1 History

2.3 Ice ages

2.3.1 Glacial landscapes

3 Topography 4 Climate 5 Vegetation 6 Population 7 History of settlement 8 Economy 9 Transportation 10 Tourism 11 See also 12 Notes 13 Literature 14 References 15 External links

Geography[edit]

View from the Pilatus on the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
near Luzern

In the north and northwest, the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is sharply delimited geographically and geologically by the Jura Mountains. In the south, there is no clear border with the Alps. Usually, the rising of the terrain to altitudes above 1500 metres AMSL (lime Alps, partly sub-alpine molasse), which is very abrupt in certain places, is taken as a criterion for delimitation. Occasionally the regions of the higher Swiss Plateau, especially the hills of the canton of Fribourg, the Napf
Napf
region, the Töss region, the (lower) Toggenburg, and parts of the Appenzell
Appenzell
region are considered to form the Swiss Alpine foreland in a narrow sense. However, if a division into the three main regions Jura Mountains, Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
and Alps
Alps
is considered, the Alpine foreland belongs clearly to the Swiss Plateau. In the southwest, the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is confined by Lake Geneva, in the northeast, by Lake Constance
Lake Constance
and the Rhine. Geologically, the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is part of a larger basin that extends beyond the border of Switzerland. At its southwestern end, in France, the plateau, in the Genevois, ends at Chambéry
Chambéry
where Jura and Alps meet. At the other side of the Lake Constance, the plateau continues in the German and Austrian Pre-Alps. Within Switzerland, the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
has a length of about 300 km, and its width increases from the west to the east: In the Geneva
Geneva
region, it is about 30 km, at Bern
Bern
about 50 km and in eastern Switzerland
Switzerland
about 70 km. Many cantons of Switzerland
Switzerland
include a part in the Swiss Plateau. Entirely situated within the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
are the cantons of Zurich, Thurgau
Thurgau
and Geneva; mostly situated within the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
are the cantons of Lucerne, Aargau, Solothurn, Bern, Fribourg
Fribourg
and Vaud; small portions of the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
are situated in the cantons of Neuchâtel, Zug, Schwyz, St. Gallen
St. Gallen
and Schaffhausen. Geology[edit] Geological layers[edit] The geological layers of the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
are relatively well known. The base level is crystalline basement which outcrops in the central crystalline Alps
Alps
as well as in the Black Forest
Black Forest
and the Vosges mountain range but forms a deep geosyncline in the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
and in the Jura (see also Jurassic). Around 2500 – 3000 metres below the surface, but considerably deeper near the Alps, the drillings have hit the crystalline basement. It is covered by unfolded strata of Mesozoic sediments, which are part of the Helvetic nappes. Its depth gradually decreases from about 2.5 km in the west to 0.8 km in the east. These layers, like the ones of the Jura Mountains, were deposited in a relatively shallow sea, the Tethys Ocean. Above the Mesozoic
Mesozoic
layers, is the Molasse, consisting of conglomerate, sandstone, marl and shale. The uppermost layer consists of gravel and glacial sediments that have been transported by the glaciers of the ice ages. Molasse[edit] Geologically the most important layer of the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is the thick molasse sequence that accumulated at the border of the Alps
Alps
due to the rapid erosion of the concurrently uplifted mountains. The thickness of the molasse increases from west to east (at the same distance from the Alps). The former alpine rivers built huge fans of sediment at the foot of the mountains. The most important examples are the Napf
Napf
fan and the Hörnli
Hörnli
fan; other sedimentary fans exist in the Rigi
Rigi
region, in the Schwarzenburg
Schwarzenburg
region and in the region between the eastern lake Geneva
Geneva
and the middle reaches of the Saane/Sarine. The eroded material has been sorted by grain size. The coarse material was predominantly deposited near the Alps. In the middle of the plateau, there are finer sandstones and near the Jura, clays and marl. History[edit] During the Tertiary orogenic uplift, around 60 – 40 millions years ago, the area of today's Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
was a Karst plateau somewhat inclined to the south. Through processes of rising and lowering that were brought by the folding of the Alps, the area was twice flooded by a sea. The corresponding sediments are distinguished as sea molasse and freshwater molasse, even though the latter consists rather of fluvial and eolian sediments (a kind of mainland molasse).

Lower sea molasse (around 37 - 30 millions years ago): The limestone plateau subsided gradually, and a shallow sea invaded, spreading east to the Carpathian Mountains. The sediments consisted of fine-grained sands, clay and marl. There were no conglomerate fans since the proper Alpine folding began only at the end of that period. Lower freshwater molasse (around 30 - 22 millions years ago): The sea receded because of uplift, but also because of a worldwide lowering of the mean sea level. The initiation of the Alpine orogeny
Alpine orogeny
and subsequent folding and uplift resulted in rapid erosion accompanied by deposition of the first conglomerate fans. Upper sea molasse (around 22 - 16 millions years ago): For a second time, a shallow sea invaded. The formation of the conglomerate fans of the Napf
Napf
and of the Hörnli
Hörnli
began. Upper freshwater molasse (about 16 - 2 millions years ago): The sea receded as the formation and of the Napf
Napf
and Hörnli
Hörnli
fans continued (along with other minor fans). At the end of this period, the thickness reached about 1500 meters.

In the following time, especially the western part of the plateau was again significantly risen, so that in this area, the sediments of the upper sweetwater molasse and the upper sea molasse have been largely eroded. A characteristic of the sea molasses are fossil snails, shells and shark teeth, whereas in the sweetwater molasse, fossils of typical land mammals and former subtropical vegetation (for instance palm leaves) are found. Ice ages[edit] The contemporary landscape of the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
has been shaped by the ice age glaciers. During all the known alpine glaciations (Günz glaciation, Mindel glaciation, Riss glaciation
Riss glaciation
and Würm glaciation), huge glaciers penetrated the Swiss Plateau. During the warm interglacials, the glaciers receded to the high alps (sometimes more than today) and subtropical vegetation spread in the plateau.

The Napf
Napf
region in the higher Swiss Plateau

During the ice ages, the Rhône glacier split into two branches when leaving the Alps, covering the whole western Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
reaching today's regions of Solothurn
Solothurn
and Aarau. In the region of Bern
Bern
it merged with the Aar Glacier. The glaciers of the Reuss, the Limmat
Limmat
and the Rhine
Rhine
advanced sometimes as well until the Jura. The glaciers formed the land by erosion, but also by base moraines (very fine stone meal) often several meters thick, and by the meltwater streams depositing gravel. Traces of the older Günz and Mindel glaciation
Mindel glaciation
are only left in a few places, because most has been removed or transferred by the later glaciations. The greatest extension was reached by the glaciers of the Riss glaciation, when the entire Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
was covered with ice except for the Napf
Napf
and Töss regions. Most notable are the traces of the Würm glaciation
Würm glaciation
about 15 000 years ago. The end moraines of different glacial retreats have been conserved. Glacial landscapes[edit] A look at a map still reveals the directions where the ice age glaciers ran. The farthest expansion of the Rhône Glacier
Glacier
to the northeast is indicated by way the western Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
valleys trend: The valleys of the Broye
Broye
and the Glâne as well as Lake Murten, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Biel
Lake Biel
that trend all northeast, parallel to the Jura and to the Alps. The glaciers of the Reuss and the Limmat
Limmat
have carved the valleys of the central Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
that trend northwest (among others including the valleys of the Wigger, the Suhre, the Seetal, the Reuss and the Limmat). The Rhine
Rhine
Glacier
Glacier
has mostly left traces that trend west: The eastern Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
of the Thur Valley and Lake Constance. In certain places, there are characteristic drumlins of base moraine, often clustered, especially in the highlands of Zurich, in the Hirzel
Hirzel
region, in the Lake Constance
Lake Constance
region and between the Reuss Valley and the Lake Baldegg. Another reminder of the glaciation are glacial erratics which are found all over the Swiss Plateau. These rocks, sometimes of an enormous size, are of alien stones, mostly granite and gneiss from the central crystalline Alps. Taken together, they were one of the clues that led to the substantiation of the glaciation theory in the 19th century since a transport by water or by volcanism was physically impossible. Gravel
Gravel
deposits in the bottoms of the valleys are another testimonial of the glaciation. During the advances and withdrawals of the glaciers, gravel layers were deposited in the valleys, sometimes quite thick, though most of it eroded in the subsequent interglacials. Therefore, many valleys have characteristic terraces, the lower terraces consisting of Würm glaciation
Würm glaciation
gravel, the higher terraces of Riss glaciation
Riss glaciation
terraces. Sometimes, there is also gravel from older glaciations. Topography[edit]

The Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
near Muri (AG)

Even though the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
forms a basin, it is by no means a flat territory, but depending on the region, it has a manifold structure. Important elements are the two big lakes, Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva
and Lake Constance that delimit the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
in the southwest and the northeast. The western plateau is stamped by the Gros-de- Vaud
Vaud
plateau (up to 600 meters AMSL) and the Jorat molasse hills (up to 900 meters AMSL) but sometimes intersected by deep valleys. Only near the Jura there is an almost continuous dip consisting of the Venoge and the Orbe valleys which are separated by the Mormont
Mormont
hill, the main watershed between Rhône and Rhine, at only 500 m AMSL. The Seeland ('lake land'), characterized by the Murten, Neuchâtel and Biel lakes, represents the biggest plain of the Swiss Plateau, though it is also interrupted by isolated molasse ranges. In the east, it is neighboured by various hill countries the height of which decreases to the north. Another major plain is the Wasseramt where the Emme runs. In a broad valley alongside the Jura, the Aare collects all the rivers that come down from the Alps.

Central Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
near Sursee

The central Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is characterised by a number of ranges and broad valleys, some of them with lakes, that run northwest. The last of them is the Albis
Albis
range, which together with the Heitersberg
Heitersberg
range forms a bar from the Alps
Alps
to the Jura that the major transportations bypass only in a few places, mostly in tunnels. The eastern Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is structured by the valleys of the Limmat (including Lake Zurich), the Glatt, the Töss, the Murg, the Thur, and the Sitter. Between them there are hill countries, in the canton of Thurgau
Thurgau
also the broad molasse ranges of Seerücken
Seerücken
(lit.: 'back of the lake') and Ottenberg north of the Thur, and the hilly ranges between the Thur and the Murg. This area is colloquially also known as Mostindien (lit.: 'Cider India'). Two hill countries get out of line of the mentioned landscapes: The Napf
Napf
region (with 1408 me AMSL the highest point of the Swiss Plateau) and the Töss region (up to 1300 meters AMSL), both of them the remains of Tertiary conglomerate sediment fans. Since they were not glaciated, they have only been eroded by water, resulting in a dense net of deep, narrow valleys. Climate[edit]

View from the Rigi
Rigi
on the sea of fog covering the Swiss Plateau

The Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is situated within a transition zone between humid oceanic climate and continental temperate climate. The predominant wind comes from the west. In the lower plateau, the mean annual temperature is about 9 – 10 °C. In January, the lake Geneva region and the watersides of lake Neuchâtel and lake Biel have the highest mean temperature of about +1 °C. At the same height AMSL, the temperature is decreasing towards the east. In the lake Constance region, the mean temperature of the coldest month is -1 °C. In July, the mean temperature of Geneva
Geneva
is 20 °C, alongside the southern edge of the Jura it is 18 – 20 °C, and in higher regions 16 – 18 °C. With regard to mean sunshine duration, the lake Geneva
Geneva
region is again advantaged with more than 1900 hours, whereas in the rest of the Swiss Plateau, it is between 1600 (especially in the east) and 1900 hours. The annual average rainfall is between 800 millimeters near the Jura, 1200 millimeters in the higher regions and 1400 millimeters at the edge of the Alps. The driest regions of the plateau are in the lee of the High Jura between Morges
Morges
and Neuchâtel. In the warmest regions at the lakes of Geneva
Geneva
and Neuchâtel, there are less than 20 days with a snow cover, whereas in the rest of the plateau, it is between 20 and 40, depending on the height. In the winter half year, the air on the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
can stay still, with little exchange to rest of the atmosphere, building a lake of cold air on the plateau and often a ceiling of high fog. The clouds look like an ocean of fog when seen from above, (usually around 800m) and hence is called the 'nebelmeer'. This weather is called inversion because the temperature below the fog is lower than the temperature above. Sometimes, it lasts for days or even for weeks, during which the neighbouring regions of the Alps
Alps
and the Jura can have the brightest sunshine. Typical for the high fog is the bise, a cold wind from northeast. Since it is channelled by the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
narrowing in southwest, it reaches its major strength in the lake Geneva
Geneva
region where wind speeds of 60 km/h with top speeds of more than 100 km/h are usual in typical bise weather. The regions near the Alps
Alps
of the central and eastern plateau sometimes have temperature rises due to the warm foehn wind. Vegetation[edit] The dominating vegetation in the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
is mixed broadleaf forest with European beeches and silver firs. For forestry, there are major plantations of Norway spruces in many places, though the Norway spruce naturally only grows in the mountains. In certain favoured spots that are warmer and drier, in the lake Geneva
Geneva
region, in the Seeland and in northern plateau between the Aare orifice and Schaffhausen, the predominant trees are oak, tilia and maple. Population[edit]

Much of the eastern part of the plateau has become part of the "Greater Zurich
Zurich
Area".

The densely populated Swiss Plateau: view of Zurich
Zurich
from Waidberg

Even though the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
takes only about 30% of the surface of Switzerland, 5 million people live there, which constitutes more than two thirds of the Swiss population. The population density is 380 people per square kilometer. All the Swiss cities with more than 50 000 inhabitants except Basel
Basel
and Lugano
Lugano
are situated in the plateau, especially Bern, Geneva, Lausanne
Lausanne
and Zurich. The agglomerations of these cities are the most populous areas. Other densely populated areas are the south edge of the Jura and the agglomerations of Lucerne, Winterthur
Winterthur
and St. Gallen. Regions of the higher Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
like the Jorat region, the Napf
Napf
region or the Töss region are comparatively scarcely populated with little farming villages and scattered farms. A majority is German-speaking, though the west is French-speaking. The language border has been stable for many centuries even though it falls neither on a geographical nor on a political delimitation. It passes from Biel/Bienne
Biel/Bienne
over Murten
Murten
or Morat and Freiburg or Fribourg to the Fribourg
Fribourg
Alps. The cities of Biel/Bienne, Murten
Murten
and Fribourg are officially bilingual. Localities along the language border usually use both names, the German and the French one, officially interchangably. History of settlement[edit] Humans began to settle the plateau in the Neolithic, starting with the banks of lakes and rivers. Major oppida were built after the Celts appeared in the 3rd century BC. Urban settlements with stone houses were built during the Roman Empire. The Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
became a part of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
15 BC when the Romans occupied the land of the Helvetii
Helvetii
under the reign of Augustus, and it remained Roman until the end of the 3rd century. The most important Roman cities in the Swiss Plateau were Auenticum (today Avenches), Vinddonissa (today Windisch), Colonia Iulia Equestris or, by its Celtic name, Noviodunum (today Nyon) and Augusta Raurica
Augusta Raurica
(today Kaiseraugst). They were well connected by a net of Roman roads. After the retreat of the Roman Empire the romanized Burgundians
Burgundians
occupied the western Swiss Plateau, while the Alamanni
Alamanni
settled in the central and eastern portions. The language border between French and German dialects originated in this contrast. During the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
many towns were founded, especially in the climatically more favoured lower plateau. In 1500 there were already 130 towns, connected by a dense road-network. With the raise of the industrialisation in the early 19th century the cities became more and more important. In 1860 a drastic population growth of the cities started which lasted for about 100 years. In the 1970s, however, an outmigration from the cities started. Therefore, the municipalities surrounding the cities grew disproportionately, whereas the cities themselves lost inhabitants. In recent times the outmigration has moved farther away from the cities. Economy[edit]

Lavaux
Lavaux
and Lake Geneva

Thanks to favourable climate and fertile grounds, the lower western plateau is the most important agricultural region of Switzerland. The most important cultures are wheat, barley, maize, sugar beet and potato; especially in the Seeland, vegetables are very important, too. Along the northern shores of the lakes of lake of Geneva, lake of Neuchâtel, lake of Bienne, lake of Morat, as well as in the Zürich Weinland and Klettgau, there is viticulture. Grassland with dairy farming and beef production is predominant in the eastern plateau and in the higher regions. Especially in the Thurgau, fruit (apples) is important. The forests in the Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
are used in forestry. There are many Norway Spruce forestations, often in monoculture because of their valuable timber.

Nuclear power plant (Leibstadt)

With respect to industry, the plateau is the most important region of Switzerland. The traditional textile industries are situated especially in the central and eastern regions. During the last decades, however, it lost importance. Today's most important industries are the machine industry, the automotive industry, the electrical industry, the fine & micro mechanical, watch & electronic industries, next to the optical and metal construction's. The food industry processes domestic as well as foreign produces. Furthermore, wood processing and paper converting are also important. Like all Switzerland, there are few mineral resources. Thanks to the Ice Age glaciers, there is plenty of gravel and clay. The gravel digging in the Ice Age gravel terraces all over the Swiss Plateau covers the demands of the construction industry. Numerous hydroelectric power plants in the rivers produce electricity. All four Swiss nuclear power plants are situated in the plateau. Transportation[edit] Because of the comparatively easy topography and the dense population, the transport network is highly developed. The most important transversal, so to speak the backbone of the Swiss Plateau, is the A1 motorway that connects all the big cities going from Geneva
Geneva
over Lausanne, Bern, Zurich
Zurich
and Winterthur
Winterthur
to St. Gallen. The A2, the Swiss north-south axis, crosses the plateau from Olten to Luzern. The railway network is very dense. All major cities are connected, and between Olten and Lausanne
Lausanne
there are two main lines: One passing over Bern
Bern
and Fribourg, the other passing over the edge of the Jura with Solothurn, Biel, Neuchâtel and Yverdon-les-Bains. The train ride from Zurich
Zurich
to Bern
Bern
takes one hour; crossing the entire Swiss Plateau
Swiss Plateau
from St. Gallen
St. Gallen
to Geneva
Geneva
takes four hours. The two most important Swiss airports are situated in the plateau, Zurich
Zurich
International Airport and Geneva
Geneva
Cointrin International Airport. The de facto capital of Switzerland, Bern, has only a small airport, Bern
Bern
Belpmoos Airport. Härkingen
Härkingen
respectively Niederbipp
Niederbipp
and Zürich are scheduled as one of the eight hubs of the proposed Cargo Sous Terrain, an underground cargo transport system those first phase of about 70 kilometres (43 mi) is planned by the early 2030s.[1] Tourism[edit]

The Rhine
Rhine
Falls

Other than the Swiss Alps, the plateau, and especially the rural plateau, is not geared to tourism. It is mainly a transit region. There is city tourism in the major cities with their touristical attractions, especially the Old Towns of Bern
Bern
and Lucerne, but also Zurich, St. Gallen, Fribourg, Geneva
Geneva
and Lausanne. An important natural touristic attraction is the Rhine
Rhine
Fall near Schaffhausen. The lakes also attract tourists, and then there are several spa towns, Baden, Schinznach-Bad, Yverdon-les-Bains
Yverdon-les-Bains
and Zurzach, thanks to their hydrothermal vents. Zurich
Zurich
Wilderness Park is the largest mixed deciduous and coniferous forest in the plateau, and includes the Sihl forest and Langenberg, the oldest Swiss wildlife park. The park covers approximately 12 square kilometres (4.6 sq mi).[2] See also[edit]

Brünig-Napf-Reuss line History of Switzerland

Notes[edit] Much of the content of this article comes from the equivalent German-language article (retrieved July 26, 2005). The following references are cited by that German-language article: Literature[edit]

Toni P. Labhart: Geologie der Schweiz. Ott Verlag, Thun, 2004. ISBN 3-7225-6762-9. François Jeanneret und Franz Auf der Maur: Der grosse Schweizer Atlas. Kümmerly + Frey, Geographischer Verlag, Bern, 1992. ISBN 3-259-08850-4. Andre Odermatt und Daniel Wachter: Schweiz, eine moderne Geographie. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zürich, 2004. ISBN 3-03823-097-9.

References[edit]

^ "Das wird die Logistik in der Schweiz auf den Kopf stellen" (in German). Limmattaler Zeitung. 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2016-01-29.  ^ "Wildnispark Zurich" (PDF). Retrieved 9 June 2013. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Swiss plateau.

Mittelland in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.

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Coordinates: 47°07′N 7°22′E / 47.117°N 7.367°E / 47.117; 7.367

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