The Alps Case Study

Location and Formation

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Alps fold mountain range are located in Central Europe and cover Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France.  They were created when the African Plate collided with the Eurasian Plate causing the rock in a geosyncline to be folded up into a mountain range that stretches over 4,000m up.


The Alps have a variety of human uses.  These are:

  • Farmers farm cattle and sheep on the mountains themselves and crops on the valley floors.  In the winter, they move animals away from the snow-covered peaks to the valley floor in a process called transhumance.  However, technology and advances in farming practise have reduced the need for this.  Vineyards are also found on sunny, South facing slopes to help boost farmers’ income through a process called diversification (changing farming methods to suit the current/future situation)
  • Tourism is a prime use of the Alps with winter sports, such as skiing, a huge attraction to the area.  Local residents run hotels, ski schools and entertainments to support the tourism industry, which has topped 100 million visitors per year.  In the summer months, the area offers walking, climbing and mountain biking opportunities, along with other outdoor activities, and in doing so, keeps the local workers’ incomes fairly consistent throughout the year

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Energy companies use the Alps because of the steep terrain.  They are able to build dams across valleys and make manmade reservoirs to provide Hydroelectric Power (HEP) to the area (60% of Switzerland’s energy comes from HEP from the Alps).  The high rainfall and snowmelt in the spring provides a lot of water to power the HEP plants.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Industries use the region mainly for logging.  The mountains and valleys are covered in coniferous forests (pine trees, conifers etc.) and these are cut down to make wood for building, paper, fuel and even cuckoo clocks.  The trees are always replanted to make the industry sustainable and the large number of rivers provide a good source of water for sawmills in the region.  The Alps used to be used for salt, iron ore, gold, silver and copper mining but cheaper competition has encouraged mining companies to leave the region.

How People Have Adapted

  • Farmers have adapted their practise to working in fold mountains by diversifying their techniques and using technology to move away from transhumance.  As the valleys get more built up through tourism, the space available to farmers decreases so they have to design new methods of farming, such as introducing vineyards or providing campsites for tourists to help boost their income.
  • The greater overall usage of the Alps has meant that communication links, e.g. roads, has been improved making it easier to move around the Alps and ensure people can live and work more effectively.  Even ski lifts and cable cars can be used to move around both people and also farmers’ animals.
  • Locals have developed new ways of supporting tourism from building new resorts to offering different types of activities in the summer and winter, all to try and encourage people to visit the area.  This provides jobs year round and a considerable income for the area.
  • Energy companies have used the steep sided valleys to build dams, reservoirs and HEP plants to provide energy, using the regions natural topography to provide more efficient forms of energy.
  • Industry uses natural resources, particularly trees, to provide wood for a variety of uses.  Deforested trees are replanted to preserve the resource and in doing so, long term employment is provided.

Like this:


Fold mountains form along converging plate boundaries such as collision or destructive boundaries. As the plates are pushed together, the sediment that has formed in the seas between them is compressed and pushed upwards, as seen opposite.

The most recent period of mountain building involved the creating of the Alps, Andes, Rockies and the Himalayas.

Our Case study involves the Alps and these were formed 30-40 million years ago. They are located in central Europe and are found in France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The Alps consist of many high mountains such as Mt. Blanc, the Matterhorn and Eiger. This is also where Europe's great rivers begin such as the Rhine, Rhone and Danube. Finally it is also where some of the largest lakes in Europe are located such as Lake Garda, Geneva and Como.

The main features of this region  are the U - shaped valleys, glaciers and the snow especially in the winters. See below

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