Magazine article Geographical

Life in the Shadow of Death. (Living with Volcanoes)

Magazine article Geographical

Life in the Shadow of Death. (Living with Volcanoes)

Article excerpt

LYING IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN 1,000 KILOMETRES FROM THE COAST OF ECUADOR, THE GALAPAGOS Islands are best known for their endemism and as the inspiration for Darwin's theory of evolution. But despite the azure seas and lush greenery, this is no tropical paradise habitat; the unique species of this isolated archipelago face a permanent threat to their survival. The islands are, in fact, a series of volcanoes that have formed over millions of years. Fernandina is the most active of all and has erupted more than ten times in the past 100 years, though few have been there to witness it. The wildlife has had little choice but to adapt to its fiery neighbours.

THIS PAGE: rivers of molten lava pour down the side of Fernandina volcano, destroying everything in their path. Situated on the confluence of three tectonic plates, the Galapagos Islands are volcanic structures made from magma deposits that have risen above sea level over millions of years. Fernandina is the youngest -- at around 700,000 years old -- and sits on a weakness in the Earth's crust known as a hot spot or a mantle plume. With each eruption the island is effectively re-shaped, as the lava cools to create new rock formations

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THIS PAGE: a spectacular fountain of lava bursts from a vent along the radial fissure of the volcano. Small pieces of residue cool to form a spatter cone

LEFT: the marine iguana, Amblyrhyncus cristatus, is particularly at risk from the volcanic activity on Fernandina, and many are washed up on beaches along the coast. In an effort to flee the lava flows, they clamber onto red-hot rocks, only to burst into flames as they run about in panic, or plunge to their deaths in the boiling wave wash

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Most amazing and unsettling of all is to observe the inability of the wildlife to comprehend the destructive powers of the awakened volcano as the magma flows tear their way through Fernandina Island

FAR LEFT: giant tortoises search for moisture among steaming fumaroles on the caldera rim of Alcedo volcano on Isabela Island. Fernandina has had no tortoises since the early 20th century, when the exploratory scientist Rollo Beck found the last one and killed it in the name of scientific research. It was later identified as a new species -- Geochelone elephanotpus phantastica

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FAR LEFT BELOW: a brown pelican, Pelicanus occidentalis, nesting at dusk amid plumes of purplish red steam that rise from the frothy turmoil created when lava meets the sea. …

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