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The Daily Volcano Quote: Darwin on Ascension 16 February 2009

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Lava flows on Ascension. Photographer Ben Tullis (Creative Commons license).

Those who have beheld a volcanic island, situated within an arid climate, will be able at once to picture to themselves the aspect of Ascension. They will imagine smooth conical hills of a bright red colour, with their summits generally truncated, rising distinct out of a level surface of black rugged lava. A principal mound in the centre of the island, seems the father of the lesser cones. It is called Green Hill; its name is taken from the faintest tinge of that colour, which at this time of the year was barely perceptible from the anchorage. To complete this desolate scene, the black rocks on the coast are lashed by a wild and turbulent sea. … One of my excursions took me towards the S.W. extremity of the island. The day was clear and hot, and I saw the island, not smiling with beauty, but staring with naked hideousness. The lava streams are covered with hummocks, and are rugged to a degree, which, geologically speaking, is not of easy explanation. The intervening spaces are concealed with layers of pumice, ashes, and volcanic tuft. In some parts rounded volcanic bombs, which must have assumed this form, when projected red-hot from the crater, lie strewed on the surface.

HMS Beagle called at Ascension Island in July 1836, on the homeward leg of the voyage she had begun, with the young Charles Darwin aboard, five years earlier. Darwin spent several days ashore, exploring the geology of the island: ‘I clambered over the mountains of Ascension with a bounding step and made the volcanic rocks resound under my geological hammer!’ These high spirits (as recalled in his Autobiography) were partly due to his having received at Ascension a number of letters from home, including one from his father which said that the Cambridge geologist Adam Sedgwick had predicted that he, Darwin, ‘should take a place among the leading scientific men’. Darwin’s explorations were the first geological studies of Ascension, which is a stratovolcano that rises more than 3000m from the Atlantic seafloor and has some varied and fascinating volcanic geology.

From Charles Darwin, Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle (London: Henry Colburn, 3 vols., 1839), vol. III, pp. 585-6, 588-9. Available online at The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online.

Image: Lava flows on Ascension Island. Picture by Ben Tullis, reproduced here under a Creative Commons license. [source]

For one week from 12 February 2009, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, The Volcanism Blog will feature a volcano-related quote from Darwin each day.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

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