Britain’s volcanic past

Our glory days are in our past, but we have inherited a landscape shaped by every paroxysm, twitch and twist the Earth throw at us. On Mull and the Ardnamurchan peninsula lie the massive remains of volcanoes at least as awesome as anything Iceland can clog the skies with. On Skye, an entire range of mountains, the Cuillins, is formed from what was once a magma chamber – a vast underground reservoir of lava. On the Giant’s Causeway and the Hebridean island of Staffa, what’s left of 700,000 square miles of lava traps – where molten rock simply poured through fissures on the ground to create a flood of basalt – are such a striking sight that they are not so much a tourist attraction but a place of pilgrimage.

In Wales, a ring of volcanoes once surrounded what is now the principality’s highest peak, Snowdon, all part of an arc of islands that belched out lava for the best part of 70m years as it made its way 4,000 miles from the southern to the northern hemisphere. It may have been a little like modern Indonesia, only more geologically violent. One of its many volcanoes is believed to have erupted three times as much lava and ash as the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, which was heard up to 3,000 miles away.

When Wales and England met Scotland 430m years ago during the frankly smutty-sounding Caledonian orogeny, a range of mountains – the Caledonides – of Himalayan proportions was formed at the centre of a continent that contained all the world’s landmass. The Appalachians, the mountains of Scandinavia and the Scottish Highlands are all part of this gargantuan chain, now torn apart by the expansion of the North Atlantic. The reason why these mountains are so unassuming is because they are very old indeed, but still not as old as the hummocky plateaus of the north-west Highlands. Here, in the top left-hand corner of Scotland, the rock is 3bn years old and was once part of Canada.

Even the graceful curves of the North and South Downs were once connected by a giant arc of chalk, a super-down that stretched from Hampshire to Agincourt the height of modern Snowdon along its crest and itself merely the outer ripple of the same brute force that formed the Alps.

Edited from an article by Ian Vince in the guardian. We recommend reading.

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One Response to Britain’s volcanic past

  1. alfy says:

    All the spectacular vulcanicity of the western Scottish Highlands and the Antrim coast happened a mere 60 million years ago. Astounding amounts of CO2 were pumped into the atmosphere, compared with our present puny androgenic industrial pollution.

    And yet, and yet all the animal and plant groups around at the time, (the Eocene) are still with us, and their descendents certainly are. How come? May be the CO” emission and any resultant global warming is not so dire as almost everyone assumes. May be life forms even as as advanced as mammals can cope much better than we think.

    Take heart then that things are nowhere near as dire as the gloom-mongers assert.

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