By Albert Fenech
Wednesday, 8th March 2017, has gone down in Maltese and Gozitan history as a National Day of Mourning.
On Tuesday night a terrific storm gripped the Maltese islands with Gale Force 9 winds and seas and torrents of rain and ice lashing the exposed northern coasts where for thousands of years the iconic Dwejra Azure Window attracted world-wide admiration and attention and was one of UNESCO’s Natural World Heritage Sites in the northern part of Gozo.
If the millions of tourists who visited the Maltese Islands over the last 30 years were to be asked what is their most vivid recollection of their visit, the overwhelming majority would answer “the Azure Window in Gozo”,
Over the last 60 years the Window had been deteriorating steadily with geologists predicting not “maybe?” but “when?” Sadly, nothing could be done to act as a buffer against nature.
The main concern had always been the platform and the regular trampling by tourists wanting to take holiday snaps. A couple of years before its collapse the platform was declared to be out of bounds and substantial fines imposed for trespassing.
However, above all, the major concern had always been the outer sea pillar holding up the whole structure. Its base was diagnosed to be of soft limestone and much subject to the constant winds and heavy seas that buffet the area regularly.
On Wednesday, 8th March 2017 morning at 09.30 the Window still stood. Seconds later it disintegrated with a mighty crash and was no more – going, going, gone.
The event was looked upon as a national catastrophe and caused widespread national mourning. In the weeks that followed discussions and speculations regarded the possibility of rebuilding the Window’s upper platform. However, all the plans remained stagnant.
Sadly, it’s all over and Malta and Gozo have lost a truly natural gem
Now, thousands of undersea photographs taken for the first time give a clear picture of the events of five years ago when the Dwejra Window, collapsed.
Maltese researchers have used innovative technique to build a 3D model during the past three years on the eventual collapse of this famous Window.
Although the rocks’ collapse had been alerted, due to the weather and sea elements, we still are currently not completely informed how this gigantic structure suddenly disappeared underwater.
A group of Maltese researchers, led by Dr Joseph Caruana, A Malta University lecturer within the Physics Department have now solved the mystery by reconstructing the collapse of the window through its remains that were studied underwater.
“We found that the cracks in the boundary, where there are different types of stones and therefore is a weaker area…and this broke off. For example, we established that the rocks broke off where there were the joints”, he said.
The principal cause on how the structure collapsed, however, was still an underwater mystery even when the window was still standing.
“We also took note of the pillar, that is underwater, the base that the pillar stood on. We found what is known as a notch…with time it deteriorated into a canal the length of the window; its base lost its strength, deteriorated and the pillar collapsed….everything collapsed with it”.
The site’s change did not end with the collapsed Window and continued underwater, even during the ongoing study where certain rocks continued to collapse.
This is also the first time that a photo-grammatically equipment was used for this aim. Thousands of photos are taken from various angles through this technique and a specified programme can identify and link them together.
“We basically could use it to carry out this study for the mapping of such site and one exactly understands the dynamics of the collapse…therefore it can be applied to other studies of other arches around the world”.
Apart from establishing a new possibility for more scientific awareness, the Maltese researchers have accommodated the interest of Maltese and Gozitans who are not divers and, therefore, cannot enjoy the new underwater site.
“There was a sense of defeat when the Window collapsed and also great curiosity by the public about the whereabouts of the Window……we wished that with this work we can provide the public with a clear idea of how the site has now changed”.
The site has still remained an icon – for deep sea divers and sadly a number perish every year in the deep sea locality, mainly foreigners.
My take is that our Azure Window at Dwejra is lost and gone forever.
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“Don’t let your head run off with you”
Do not speculate on what might or might not happen – it might never materialise.
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