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When you think about the Galapagos Islands what comes to mind?

The first thoughts I have are about the animals and some of the interesting plants found there.

The plants and animals of the Galapagos Islands certainly make them unique and attract a lot of attention, but there is a lot more involved in what makes the Galapagos Islands unique.

In fact what’s happening below the surface makes the Galapagos Islands so unique that there is no place on the planet quite like it.

volcanic-landscape-galapagos

The Only Place On The Planet

The Galapagos Islands were formed by volcanic activity. This in itself is interesting, but many other places can also thank volcanic activity for their existence  What makes the Galapagos Islands extremely unique is the fact that they were formed by a hot spot adjacent to a mid-ocean ridge. This can not be found anywhere else on the planet!

There are hots spot in the middle of tectonic plates and at plate boundaries, but nowhere else is a hotspot found within several hundred kilometers of a mid-ocean ridge.

A hot spot adjacent to a mid-ocean ridge

What does that mean?

It means that there is a “hot spot”  (an area of volcanic activity) next to “a mid-ocean ridge” (an underwater mountain system).

A mid-ocean ridge is formed at the meeting of two tectonic plates, and is geologically active. Mix that with its proximity to the a hot spot and you have a unique combination of geological activity!

las-grietas-walking-on-lava

Moving Islands

The mid-ocean ridge is part of an oceanic spreading center which causes seafloor spreading. Magma comes up into the rifts and valleys of the underwater mountain system creating new crust which causes the seafloor to spread.

All of this geological activity means that the Galapagos Islands are moving. They are moving extremely slowly, but they are moving. As new volcanoes are being built older ones are being carried away to the east.

The unique nature of the Galapagos Islands has allowed geologists to study how volcanoes are created and how they change over time. It has also shown how changing volcanic landscapes affect animal and plant life. The Galapagos Islands are a playground for scientists from many different fields!

Deeper Thoughts

What does all of this mean for the average Galapagos explorer? It gives us a greater appreciation for the Islands and how unique they are.

As we explored the islands we saw evidence of volcanic activity. From hiking up a volcano to walking through underground lava tunnels, evidence of volcanic activity was all around us. It was pretty amazing to be there and realize that there was nowhere else like it on the planet!

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