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How were the Galapagos Islands formed?

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Galapagos Islands are well known for their extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, while the actual formation of the Galapagos hasn’t been overlooked until recently. The creation of the Enchanted Islands is one of the most unique processes on Earth, yet it is still a mystery that scientists are trying to solve.

Volcan Chico Galapagos 1080x675It was about 14 million years ago when the peaks of several volcanoes broke the surface of the Pacific Ocean and formed the initial Galapagos Archipelago. The Galapagos hotspot is located in the western part of Galapagos. A hot spot is a place where the magma in the Earth is hotter than usual.

The Galapagos Islands were created by volcanoes over the course of ages, born of the fires deep within the Earth’s core. However the volcanoes in the Archipelago are different. The islands sit on what is called the Nazca Plate, one of which form the Earth’s crust in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a particularity about this plate is that it does not collide with any other, which moves slowly around 5 cm per year. Each time the plate moves, new volcanoes rise up. This is how the Galapagos Islands were formed, about 600 miles west from the coast of Ecuador. It only took a volcano to form all the islands, with the exception of Isabela Island, the largest of all, formed by the union of six different volcanoes above the sea level.

Volcanoes lava and geology are fundamental to understanding the uniqueness of Galapagos. Most people know that the inside of the Earth is made of magma, or molten rock, which is very hot. So why don’t we get burned? Because Earth’s upper crust is cool and protects us from the heat. But the crust in not one big solid piece, like the coating on a cand M&M. Rahter, the crust is in the form several different pieces called “plates,” that move around and occasionally crash into one another. 

In the last 200 years, a remarkable 50 plus eruptions have occurred. They have damaged the unique species of the islands, but they have also created every new land there. The islands that are farther from the hot spot are the oldest and the closest from it are the youngest. For example, San Cristobal Island was formed about 4 million years ago, and the young Fernandina Island is believed to have less than 700,000 years old.

Current Volcanic Activity

The eastern Galapagos Islands are no longer volcanically active. Some of them are very old, and have nearly been reclaimed by the sea. Genovesa, for example, is a small island and it’s all that remains of a once-enormous volcano. It’s no longer active: in fact, you may get to snorkel in the volcano’s crater!

The western islands, on the other hand, are still quite active, as they are still over the hot spot. The volcanoes on Isabela and Fernandina still erupt regularly.

Recent Volcanic Activity

In April of 2009, La Cumbre Volcano on Fernandina erupted, sending smoke, gas and ash high into the sky and endangering thousands of animals including Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Penguins. Although the volcano was erupting, visits to the other side of Fernandina Island continued!

In May of 2008, Cerro Azul on Isabela erupted briefly.

In October of 2005, Sierra Negra (Isabela) erupted, shooting lava and ash into the sky. It had been dormant since 1978.

One noteworthy volcanic event took place in 1954, when a sudden volcanic event caused the underwater geography off of Isabela Island to shift. As a result, Urbina Bay was created when a section of the ocean floor was suddenly pushed above water. Reports from ship’s captains said that the area reeked of dead fish and marine life for weeks. It happened so fast that the sea animals could not escape! It is possible to visit Urbina Bay and you can still see some coral formations there along the trail.

Is the Volcanic Activity Dangerous?

Not really. Most of the tourism sites in Galapagos are far away from any volcano that might be dangerous. They are dangerous for the animals, therefore: giant tortoises occasionally get burned by lava or hot ash, and other animals may lose habitat. The rare Galapagos pink land Iguanas, which inhabit Isabela’s Wolf volcano, are considered at-risk because its numbers and habitat are so small that an inopportune eruption could wipe them out.

Most Galapagos visitors have come from around the world to see the unfearful wildlife or to dive in the crystal blue Galapagos waters. 

The Galapagos Islands, a place where you can discover pristine wildlife, geology, and uniqueness. You will have a one in a lifetime experience.

Born to Explore
    • Location

      Republica, E7-03 y Eloy Alfaro Oficina 307 
      Pichincha - Quito - Ecuador 
      EC170526

      Galapagos Office. - Pampas Coloradas, Isabelas 678 and Petrel streets  
      Santa Cruz Island - Ecuador
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