Geology of the Galapagos Islands Essay

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In 1835 Charles Darwin, aboard the vessel HMS Beagle, first set foot on the Islands of the Galapagos Archipeligo setting off on what would become the inspiration for the most important innovation in biological sciences either before or since. That visit solidified for Darwin his notion of the evolution of life on Earth, and helped trigger his breakthrough regarding Natural Selection, ultimately culminating in his groundbreaking masterpiece On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. And although Darwin would never return to these Islands in his lifetime, the Galapagos still hold today a vast importance-both symbolic and scientific-to evolutionary biologists everywhere, and have undergone intense scrutiny and
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- Charles Darwin, Volcanic Islands, Chapter V. 1844
With these words Darwin begins his apt description of the Galapagos Archipeligo, as based upon his own observations, which is as succinct a description one will find. As Darwin notes, the Galapagos Islands are located roughly on the Equator about 600 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, numbering thirteen to fifteen islands in all and situated on the Nazca Oceanic Plate. The islands represent the portion of submarine volcanoes, specifically shield volcanoes, that have broken the surface of the Pacific Ocean, to form highly basaltic land forms.
The islands were first discovered by Europeans, quite by accident in fact, in 1535 by Fra Tomas de Barlanga, the Bishop of Panama when his ship went off course while travaling to Peru. This is also the first written description of the islands as de Barlanga writes, "dross, worthless, because it has not the power of raising a little grass, but only some thistles." (White, 1997) Hardly a scientific analysis, however it is indeed telling of the terrain that would be produced by the volcanic activity that gave rise to the land. The basaltic terrain would leave little roothold for most plants and trees.
The next 300 hundreds years are largely uneventful-certainly so from a geologic standpoint- with the islands serving as a base and haven for pirates beginning in the late 16th century. Whalers followed the…

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