Pioneering Galapagos Trip for Cambridge Geologists

Jun 28, 2007

A team of University of Cambridge Geologists will follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin on a unique expedition to the Galapagos Islands in July.

The expedition, led by Dr David Norman from the University of Cambridge Earth Sciences Department and the Sedgwick Museum, will go ‘back to nature' into areas of Isla Santiago (formerly known as James Island), uninhabited by humans, and largely untouched since Darwin's time.

The party of seven includes Andrew Miles, a 21-year-old Earth Sciences undergraduate from Churchill College, who will be very similar in age to the young Charles Darwin when he visited the Galapagos Islands as part of his epic Beagle voyage that did so much to inspire his later theory of Evolution.

Camping out in rough terrain and sampling from areas rarely explored since Darwin's time, the researchers will attempt to retrace his steps on the island, where he spent about 10 days collecting volcanic rocks and other natural history objects.

The original rocks collected on the islands are in the Sedgwick Museum, and there is some confusion about where exactly he collected his samples.

The geologists will also apply modern scientific methods in a way that Darwin could not, collecting more rocks from a larger area of the island and bringing to light, using hi-tech analytical equipment, information about the unique volcanic activity displayed on Santiago.

Specimens, collected on the trip, will be used by Andrew for an undergraduate research project before being exhibited at the Sedgwick Museum as part of a new exhibition “Charles Darwin the Geologist,” to be opened in 2009.

Duplicate rocks will also be used to create smaller exhibitions at the Charles Darwin Research Centre (on the island of Santa Cruz) in Quito (Ecuador), Santiago (Chile) and at the Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC).

“The amazing thing about Darwin was that he was only on Santiago for ten days with limited equipment, yet managed to collect a range of specimens broad enough to map out major parts of the island,” said Dr David Norman.

“Charles Darwin was a truly remarkable observer and collector and we hope that this trip will give us a better understanding of his experiences at a time when many of his theories were developing apace.”

Dr Sally Gibson, expedition Volcanologist said, “The Galapagos Islands have formed where hot mantle from deep within the Earth has risen and generated melts that have ascended through the lithosphere and erupted at the surface.”

“The expedition will be a marvellous chance to explore uncharted territory and find out more about the geological history of Santiago, the island from which Darwin first proposed his theory of how volcanic melts evolve by a process of crystal fractionation.”

The Galapagos are a cluster of 13 volcanic islands and associated islets and rocks located just beneath the equator, about 960 km (600 miles) west of Ecuador in South America.

Charles Darwin was the first to make a scientific collection from the islands in 1835. He was a young student having just graduated from Cambridge and was appointed as the naturalist on a round-the-world scientific and geographical voyage on board HMS Beagle.

He had spent the previous four years exploring the geology and wildlife of South America. In later life Darwin maintained that the impressions created by his experiences in South America, and on the Galapagos were the source of many of his most famous ideas.

The geologists must spend time in ‘quarantine' on the island of Santa Cruz (at the research station) to avoid contamination risks before being allowed to venture on to Isla Santiago to carry out their research.

They intend to make a video diary during their trip, charting their progress and recording thoughts and feelings on what they discover and this will be added to the University of Cambridge website after they return.

The expedition has been funded by the Department of Earth Sciences; Christ's College, Cambridge; Trinity College, Cambridge and the National Science Foundation.

Source: University of Cambridge

Explore further: Not all phytoplankton in the ocean need to take their vitamins

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Animals first flex their muscles

13 minutes ago

An unusual new fossil discovery of one of the earliest animals on earth may also provide the oldest evidence of muscle tissue – the bundles of cells that make movement in animals possible.

Introducing the multi-tasking nanoparticle

3 hours ago

Kit Lam and colleagues from UC Davis and other institutions have created dynamic nanoparticles (NPs) that could provide an arsenal of applications to diagnose and treat cancer. Built on an easy-to-make polymer, these particles ...

Eta Carinae: Our Neighboring Superstars

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The Eta Carinae star system does not lack for superlatives. Not only does it contain one of the biggest and brightest stars in our galaxy, weighing at least 90 times the mass of the Sun, it ...

Recommended for you

EU project sails off to study Arctic sea ice

2 hours ago

A one-of-a-kind scientific expedition is currently heading to the Arctic, aboard the South Korean icebreaker Araon. This joint initiative of the US and Korea will measure atmospheric, sea ice and ocean properties with technology ...

Snails tell of the rise and fall of the Tibetan plateau

3 hours ago

The rise of the Tibetan plateau—the largest topographic anomaly above sea level on Earth—is important for both its profound effect on climate and its reflection of continental dynamics. In this study published in GSA ...

New signs of eruption at Iceland volcano

19 hours ago

Teams monitoring Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano have found evidence of a possible underground eruption as powerful earthquakes continue to shake the area, Icelandic authorities said Thursday.

NASA sees a weaker Tropical Storm Marie

19 hours ago

When NOAA's GOES-West satellite captured an image of what is now Tropical Storm Marie, weakened from hurricane status on August 28, the strongest thunderstorms were located in the southern quadrant of the ...

User comments : 0