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The Swiss Alps are recognized as one of the most spectacular mountainous regions in the world. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region is the most glaciated part of the European Alps. Spanning over 82,000 hectares (316.6 square miles), it is located in the southwest of Switzerland. Jungfrau-Aletsch boasts many impressive peaks, nine of which stand at over 4,000 meters (2.5 miles) in altitude. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region became the first Alpine UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural, Organization) World Natural Heritage Site in 2001. The Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region has not only played a significant role in European art, literature, mountaineering, and sightseeing, but it also offers immense wealth of geological information regarding glacier and alp formation, as well as the natural ecosystems unique to the area. With global warming resulting in an alarming amount of unnatural glacial retreat, ongoing scientific research in the area is also considered to be of paramount importance. The Aletsch Glacier is the largest and longest glacial area of the European Alps. This frozen river begins its long winding 23-kilometer (14-mile) descent from an altitude of 4,000 meters (2.49 miles). Measured at almost 1-kilometer (3,280-feet) thick at various points, the glacial ice melts to feed crystal clear water into the Rhone River. Although snow, ice, and outcrops of jagged granite rock make up around 80 percent of the Jungfrau-Aletsch landscape, 529 species of durable vascular plants and mosses can be found here, and Norway Spruce and Swiss Pine trees are plentiful in the valleys below. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region is also full of animal life. There are plenty of mountain goats like the Alpine ibex, or the steinbock, as well as the chamois. The lynx is very much at home chilling on the glacial hillsides along with a number of red deer and smaller mammals such as foxes, hares, stoats, and squirrels. Almost 1,000 separate insect species have been recorded in the region. The 99 species of bird that have been identified here include the rock thrush, rock partridge, great spotted woodpecker, golden eagle, as well as boreal and pygmy owls. Indeed, this vibrant environment is full of life.