Darwin, in the work before us, shows how little ground there is for the assumption that the great ring-craters of the Atlantic islands have originated in gigantic blisters of the earth's surface which, opening at the top, have given origin to the craters. Admitting the influence of the injection of lava into the structure of the volcanic cones, in increasing their bulk and elevation, he shows that, in the main, the volcanoes are built up by repeated ejections causing an accumulation of materials around the vent.

While, however, agreeing on the whole with Scrope and Lyell, as to the explosive origin of ordinary volcanic craters, Darwin clearly saw that, in some cases, great craters might be formed or enlarged, by the subsidence of the floors after eruptions. The importance of this agency, to which too little attention has been directed by geologists, has recently been shown by Professor Dana, in his admirable work on Kilauea and the other great volcanoes of the Hawaiian Archipelago.

The effects of subsidence at a volcanic centre in producing a downward dip of the strata around it, was first pointed out by Darwin, as the result of his earliest work in the Cape de Verde Islands. Striking illustrations of the same principle have since been pointed out by M. Robert and others in Iceland, by Mr. Heaphy in New Zealand, and by myself in the Western Isles of Scotland.

Darwin again and again called attention to the evidence that volcanic vents exhibit relations to one another which can only be explained by assuming the existence of lines of fissure in the earth's crust, along which the lavas have made their way to the surface. But he, at the same time, clearly saw that there was no evidence of the occurrence of great deluges of lava along such fissures; he showed how the most remarkable plateaux, composed of successive lava sheets, might be built up by repeated and moderate ejections from numerous isolated vents; and he expressly insists upon the rapidity with which the cinder-cones around the orifices of ejection and the evidences of successive outflows of lava would be obliterated by denudation.

One of the most striking parts of the book is that in which he deals with the effects of denudation in producing "basal wrecks" or worn down stumps of volcanoes. He was enabled to examine a series of cases in which could be traced every gradation, from perfect volcanic cones down to the solidified plugs which had consolidated in the vents from which ejections had taken place. Darwin's observations on these points have been of the greatest value and assistance to all who have essayed to study the effects of volcanic action during earlier periods of the earth's history. Like Lyell, he was firmly persuaded of the continuity of geological history, and ever delighted in finding indications, in the present order of nature, that the phenomena of the past could be accounted for by means of causes which are still in operation. Lyell's last work in the field was carried on about his home in Forfarshire, and only a few months before his death he wrote to Darwin: "All the work which I have done has confirmed me in the belief that the only difference between Palaeozoic and recent volcanic rocks is no more than we must allow for, by the enormous time to which the products of the oldest volcanoes have been subjected to chemical changes."

Darwin was greatly impressed, as the result of his studies of volcanic phenomena, followed by an examination of the great granite-masses of the Andes, with the relations between the so-called Plutonic rocks and those of undoubtedly volcanic origin. It was indeed a fortunate circumstance, that after studying some excellent examples of recent volcanic rocks, he proceeded to examine in South America many fine illustrations of the older igneous rock-masses, and especially of the most highly crystalline types of the same, and then on his way home had opportunities of reviving the impression made upon him by the fresh and unaltered volcanic rocks. Some of the general considerations suggested by these observations were discussed in a paper read by him before the Geological Society, on March 7th, 1838, under the title "On the Connection of Certain Volcanic Phenomena, and On the Formation of Mountain-chains, and the Effect of Continental Elevations." The exact bearing of these two classes of facts upon one another are more fully discussed in his book on South American geology.

Volcanic Islands Page 06

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book