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GALAPAGOS ISLANDS EXERCISE

SUST 2701

Reproduced (with permission) from http://www.discoveringgalapagos.org.uk/

Geographical Processes

Galapagos offers a wealth of geographical diversity and is one of the most volcanically active areas on Earth. Witness the constant evolution of the Islands as volcanic eruptions, climate change and human impact modify the wildlife, landscape and culture of the Islands. Find out how geographical processes work together to make this unique Archipelago so special.

Location and Formation

Plate Tectonics

One of the processes that is key to the formation of the Galapagos Islands involves plate tectonics. The structure of the Earth is made up of many layers; a very hot inner core (4,000°C), the outer core (3,500°C), the lower mantle and upper mantle which are liquid, and a solid crust.

mantle and upper mantle which are liquid, and a solid crust. The Earth’s crust A diagram

The Earth’s crust

A diagram showing a cross-section of the Earth from crust to inner core © Lisa Brown

a solid crust. The Earth’s crust A diagram showing a cross-section of the Earth from crust

Our planet has existed for around 4.5 billion years, you can find out more about the history of Earth here. The crust is made up of heavy oceanic crust and lighter continental crust. These are broken up into pieces which move on the liquid mantle below. According to plate tectonics the Earth’s crust is made up of many pieces, called plates. Some plates carry continents and oceans, others just ocean. They move very slowly in different directions driven by the convection currents in the mantle below. The places where plates meet are called plate boundaries.

The places where plates meet are called plate boundaries. Types of plate boundaries Destructive plate boundary

Types of plate boundaries

Destructive plate boundary

A destructive plate boundary is sometimes called a ‘convergent plate margin’. This occurs when oceanic and continental crusts move towards each other. The oceanic plate is pushed underneath the continental plate because it is more dense, this forms the subduction zone.

because it is more dense, this forms the subduction zone. A diagram of a destructive plate

A diagram of a destructive plate boundary © Lisa Brown

The friction of these plates rubbing against each other causes melting of the oceanic plate and can cause earthquakes. Magma from deep in the Earth’s mantle rises towards

the surface through the cracks and erupts at the surface and a volcano can form. Sometimes the magma doesn’t reach the surface and solidifies underground to form igneous rocks.

One example of a destructive plate boundary can be found between the Nazca and South American plates. The Nazca plate is forced under the South American plate.

Collision plate boundary

This type of plate boundary involves two continental plates colliding with each other. Neither plate can be forced under the other because they are both lighter continental crust, so both are forced up. This process forms fold mountains.

For example, the Himalayas were formed by a collision plate boundary.

the Himalayas were formed by a collision plate boundary. A diagram of a collision plate boundary

A diagram of a collision plate boundary © Lisa Brown

Constructive plate boundary

A constructive plate boundary, which is sometimes called a ‘divergent plate margin’, is where plates move apart from each other. As they do this, magma wells up to fill the gap and when it reaches the surface new crust is formed, often in the form of a volcano.

The Mid Atlantic Ridge was formed due to constructive plate movement.

A diagram of a constructive plate boundary © Lisa Brown Conservative plate boundary  A

A diagram of a constructive plate boundary © Lisa Brown

Conservative plate boundary

A conservative plate boundary, which is sometimes called a ‘transform plate margin’, occurs when plates move alongside each other, in the opposite direction or in the same direction at different speeds. When plates slip past each other creating sudden movement the result is an earthquake.

The San Andreas Fault in California (USA) is an example of a conservative plate boundary.

A diagram of a conservative plate boundary © Lisa Brown Hot Spots and Volcanoes Tectonic

A diagram of a conservative plate boundary © Lisa Brown

Hot Spots and Volcanoes

Tectonic shifts at plate boundaries can result in earthquakes, volcanoes or both. There is one other type of area that can lead to the creation of volcanoes, and these are known as hotspots. There are a number of hotspots all over the world.

. There are a number of hotspots all over the world. The Galapagos hotspot Hotspots occur

The Galapagos hotspot

Hotspots occur when one of the Earth’s plates moves over an unusually hot part of the Earth’s mantle. These hot areas are usually relatively stationary and result in large amounts of magma rising up, piercing a hole in the plate to form a volcano. As the plates move, a series of volcanoes can form. This is how the Galapagos Islands were formed.

This diagram shows how a hot spot was instrumental in the creation of Galapagos. Mantle

This diagram shows how a hot spot was instrumental in the creation of Galapagos. Mantle plumes create volcanoes, but as the hot spot is in continuous motion, a series of volcanoes are created, eventually becoming the Islands. © Lisa Brown

The Galapagos hotspot (estimated to be around 150 km wide) is located to the west of the Galapagos Archipelago. The Islands are located in the northern part of the Nazca plate, which is slowly drifting in a southeasterly direction at a rate of approximately 5cm

per year. As the plate moves, the hot spot remains stationary and islands form and slowly drift away from the hot spot allowing more volcanoes and islands to be formed.

The islands that are furthest from the hotspot are the oldest while those closest to the hotspot are the youngest (most recently formed). San Cristobal is approximately 4 million years old, while Fernandina is thought to be less than 700,000 years old, and considered to have one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

The movement of the Nazca plate in this direction causes it to collide with the South American plate. As the South American plate is continental it means the Nazca oceanic plate (which is heavier) is forced below. As this happens, and the plate is forced into the mantle, it begins to melt. Magma makes its way to the surface where it forms a volcano, ejecting molten magma known as lava.

The Nazca plate is close to the Cocos plate (north), the Pacific plate (west), theSouth American plate (east) and the Antarctic plate (south).

American plate (east) and the Antarctic plate (south). Galapagos volcanos A single volcano formed each of

Galapagos volcanos

A single volcano formed each of the islands apart from Isabela (the largest island) which is actually formed from the joining of six different volcanoes.

The newly forming islands in Galapagos are in the north west of the area. Because these volcanoes are formed underwater, the lava spreads out across the sea floor spreading out. This means the islands are formed with gentle sloping sides and a main vent. This type of volcano is called a shield volcano, one of two main kinds.

Shield volcano: a shield volcano has a very shallow slope as the lava has low viscosity (it is very runny and not very sticky).

An aerial view of the Fernandina shield volcano © Tom Simkin  Composite cone volcano

An aerial view of the Fernandina shield volcano © Tom Simkin

Composite cone volcano: a cone shaped volcano formed by many layers of lava, tephra (larger pieces of volcanic material), pumice, and volcanic ash.

pieces of volcanic material), pumice, and volcanic ash. The Mayon Composite Volcano (Philippines) erupting in 2009

The Mayon Composite Volcano (Philippines) erupting in 2009 © Tryfon Topalidis

In the last 200 years there have been over 50 eruptions from volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands. This shows that the volcanoes are still active and the islands themselves are still forming. The most recent significant eruption was on Fernandina island in 2009. Often on Fernandina and Isabela you can see columns of steam and gas coming out of the volcanoes.

Most of the Galapagos Islands are formed from basalt which is a type of rock formed from basaltic lava. Basaltic lava is much more fluid than other types of lava and is usually from oceanic crust. This means it flows further and producers a much gentler slope on the volcano. This is how a shield volcano is formed.

Many volcanoes have a caldera at the top. A caldera is a large circular depression where a volcanic crater would have originally been. As magma is no longer supplied to the crater (as the island moves away from the hotspot) it leaves a large open cavity. The largest caldera in the islands is on Isabela and is around 7 x 10 km.

Rock Types

There are three basic types of rock: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. The differences between them are to do with how they are formed.

differences between them are to do with how they are formed. Igneous rocks Igneous rocks are

Igneous rocks

Igneous rocks are formed by solidification of cooled magma (molten rock) either below the surface as intrusive rocks, or on the surface as extrusive rocks. This magma can come from partial melting of pre-exiting rock in the Earth’s mantle or crust.

from partial melting of pre-exiting rock in the Earth’s mantle or crust . An example of

An example of igneous rock © Stan Zurek

Sedimentary rocks Rocks formed from sediments cover 75- 80% of the Earth’s land area, and

Sedimentary rocks

Rocks formed from sediments cover 75-80% of the Earth’s land area, and includes common types such as chalk, limestone, dolomite, sandstone, conglomerate, and shale. The sediments are compacted and converted to rock as they are compressed over a very long time period.

to rock as they are compressed over a very long time period. An example of sedimentary

An example of sedimentary rock © P S Pratheep

time period. An example of sedimentary rock © P S Pratheep Metamorphic rocks Metamorphic rock is

Metamorphic rocks

Metamorphic rock is result of the transformation of pre-existing rock types in a process called metamorphism which means ‘change in form’. The source rock is subjected to heat and pressure causing physical and/or chemical changes. The source rock may be sedimentary, igneous or another older metamorphic rock.

An example of metamorphic rock © Siim Sepp Hydrothermal Vents Hydrothermal vents can only occur

An example of metamorphic rock © Siim Sepp

Hydrothermal Vents

Hydrothermal vents can only occur where there is volcanic activity. Cracks that form in the sea floor allow water to flow through the ocean crust, where it is heated by nearby magma chambers. Water can reach temperatures of up to 400°C where it dissolves metals and salts as it travels through the rocks. It then travels back into the ocean via hydrothermal vents.

It then travels back into the ocean via hydrothermal vents. Life in a hostile environment Today,

Life in a hostile environment

Today, scientists have discovered hundreds of hydrothermal vents around the world however they were only first discovered in 1977 by a team working off the coast of Galapagos. The discovery revolutionised scientific thinking on how and where life could exist. The exploration of the hydrothermal vents along the Galapagos Ridge has led to dozens of new and intriguing creatures being described. Scientists today are still exploring deep sea vents, trying to answer the many unanswered questions around these unique ecosystems.

A hydrothermal vent © NOAA The environment around these vents is extremely hostile as there

A hydrothermal vent © NOAA

The environment around these vents is extremely hostile as there is often no light. There is also a lot of pressure because it is deep below the ocean surface and the vent plumes can include a lot of toxic chemicals including hydrogen sulphide which is poisonous to many animals. However, vents still manage to host an assortment of different creatures including tube worms and crabs which thrive in this environment. A new type of bacteria has been discovered which uses the toxic gas as an energy source, and in turn this bacteria acts as a food source for crabs, clams and tube worms.

acts as a food source for crabs, clams and tube worms . An image of a

An image of a community of galatheid crabs, taken by oceanographer Robert Hessler of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography during a 1979 expedition to the Galapagos Rift

© Robert Hessler/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Oceanography

The Humboldt Current

The Humboldt Current is a cold water ocean current that flows north from Antarctica along the west coast of South America, bringing nutrient rich water to the Galapagos Islands and helping to sustain the islands rich biodiversity.

and helping to sustain the islands rich biodiversity. A source of nutrients Named after the naturalist

A source of nutrients

Named after the naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt, the current is driven by strong winds which displace the warm and nutrient poor surface water, allowing the cold Antarctic waters to rise to the surface creating a phenomenon known as an upwelling. The cold waters brought up from the deep, are rich in nutrients from dead and decaying matter found on the sea floor. These provide food for phytoplankton which are the primary producers in the ecosystem and are very important for the food web. Their abundance makes the Humboldt Current one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and supports the world’s largest fisheries and is the reason why some species of penguins can live on the equator. The large concentration of fish and cold waters mean that penguins can live there all year round.

waters mean that penguins can live there all year round. A diagram to show how ocean

A diagram to show how ocean currents such as the Humboldt Current affect Galapagos

© GCT

Upwelling

Upwelling is an oceanic process in which cold water from the deep rises toward the surface of the ocean. It is caused by strong winds and the rotation of the Earth which moves warmer surface waters offshore allowing the cold, nutrient rich water to rush up.

offshore allowing the cold, nutrient rich water to rush up. How does upwelling occur? There are

How does upwelling occur?

There are three main ways that upwelling occurs and they all occur around the Galapagos Islands: along coastlines; along the equator and around the Islands. Along the coast, wind driven currents are diverted at right angles to the left of the direction of the wind due to Coriolis effect in the Southern Hemisphere (it would be to the right in the Northern Hemisphere). This is known as the Ekman transport. Where the water is displaced along the western coast of South America, the Humboldt Current brings up cold water currents form the Antarctic to the Galapagos Islands.

In the northern hemisphere, if the wind blows parallel to the coast, then the Ekman

In the northern hemisphere, if the wind blows parallel to the coast, then the Ekman transport can produce a net movement of surface waters, potentially resulting in coastal upwelling

At the equator there are no Coriolis forces present. Instead, trade winds from the north east and south east come together to form what is known as the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). This causes upwelling either side of the equator and bring nutrients to the Galapagos Islands via the Cromwell Current.

Upwelling also occurs around islands and archipelagos as the sea floor becomes shallower, forcing deeper ocean currents to the surface.

shallower, forcing deeper ocean currents to the surface. Effects of Upwelling Upwelling brings cold water from

Effects of Upwelling

Upwelling brings cold water from the deep ocean to the surface. This cold water is typically rich in nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate because of the dead and decaying matter that has sunk to the ocean floor. These nutrients are important for the primary producers of the oceanic food chain, the phytoplankton. The oceans around the Galapagos Islands are very productive.

Productivity refers to the amount of organic carbon that phytoplankton produce by the process of photosynthesis. This high level of productivity can be seen by looking at levels of chlorophyll in the ocean. The abundance of phytoplankton surrounding the Galapagos Islands provides food for many species of fish, birds and mammals and creates some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

Weather and Climate

Seasons in Galapagos

The climate of the Galapagos Islands varies between the seasons and also across the different areas of the islands such as the coastal areas and the higher elevations.

islands such as the coastal areas and the higher elevations. Seasons The cooling effect of the

Seasons

The cooling effect of the Humboldt Current means that the climate across the Islands is generally mild and dry. Between May and December the winds blow from south-easterly direction so the coastline of the southern islands receive a supply of cool water, which chills the air and creates relatively cold conditions for islands that are located close to the equator.

During this period there is little rain in the coastal regions, which means that the only plants that can survive here are those that can survive a long time without water (for example lichens and cacti). However, wherever the Islands become higher, clouds provide moisture which can lead to a much higher biodiversity of plant life. January to April is considered the rainy season and this bring with it reduced winds and much warmer sea currents. There is often heavy rain at higher elevations which causes

streams of water to flow downhill, providing water to a much wider range of flora and fauna.

providing water to a much wider range of flora and fauna. Fluctuations in temperature and rainfall

Fluctuations in temperature and rainfall in Galapagos © GalapagosIslands.com)

Not only does the Humboldt Current bring nutrients to the Islands, it is also one of the main drivers of the weather systems on and around the Galapagos Islands.

of the weather systems on and around the Galapagos Islands. The impact of the Humboldt Current

The impact of the Humboldt Current on seasons in Galapagos

When the current is at its strongest, between May and December, it brings cool air to the islands making air and sea surface temperatures unusually mild for a tropical island. This means less sea water evaporates from the surface; so fewer clouds are formed; decreasing the amount of rain that falls and making this the ‘dry season’. During the ‘wet season’ which lasts from January to April, the winds and the cold water current is weakened, creating warmer surface temperatures; which lead to increased evaporation and so more rainfall.

which lead to increased evaporation and so more rainfall. How does El Niño affect the currents?

How does El Niño affect the currents?

The Humboldt Current is affected during El Niño where the cold water currents are displaced by warm water currents from the Central Pacific Ocean. This disrupts the weather patterns of Galapagos and has a devastating effect on the food chain. The supply of nutrients is cut off, leading to food shortages throughout the food chain, threatening many of the unique species in the ecosystem.

Galapagos Coastline © GCT El Niño Global climate patterns are mainly connected to the circulation

Galapagos Coastline © GCT

El Niño

Global climate patterns are mainly connected to the circulation of air in the atmosphere, but ocean currents can also have a major influence on weather patterns and climate. Therefore, changes to ocean currents, such as in El Niño events, can have consequences for the Galapagos Islands and the wider world.

consequences for the Galapagos Islands and the wider world. What is El Niño? El Niño ,

What is El Niño?

El Niño, also known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), is a warm current that moves in a southward direction. It occurs in the Pacific, off the coast of Peru normally around December. The intensity and duration of this current varies. El Niño currents are not an uncommon phenomenon, but it is hard to predict the level of disruption that these events will have on the wider global weather system. Large El Niño events have been known to cause global scale weather disruption. While parts of South America experience heavier rainfall, areas of Australasia may experience drought.

Approximately every seven years, the Humboldt current is interrupted by El Niño. Warm waters, which normally flow west, instead move towards the shores of South America and the Galapagos Islands.

Satellite imagery of the Atacama Desert, Peru © NASA In normal (non-El Niño) years, the

Satellite imagery of the Atacama Desert, Peru © NASA

In normal (non-El Niño) years, the cold Humboldt Current flows northwards along the west coast of South America and then further westwards. As the current flows west, it is warmed by the tropical sun, which results in warm, moist air rising over Indonesia, creating a low pressure area. This leads to the formation of tropical cumulonimbus clouds which cause heavy rain.

High above in the upper atmosphere, the air circulates east and then sinks into the cooler high pressure area over the west coast of South America. The dry conditions caused by this air flow were instrumental in creating the Atacama Desert in Peru.

During El Niño years, pressure systems and weather patterns reverse. Warmer waters develop in the eastern Pacific, with temperatures rising by up to 8°C. Low pressure systems form over the area, drawing in westerly winds from across the Pacific.

Warm, moist air rises, creating heavy rainfall over the Eastern Pacific region (around Peru). The air circulates west in the upper atmosphere. Around northern Australia and Indonesia the descending air gives drier conditions than usual and can cause drought.

During El Niño years, air currents move eastwards across the Pacific, bringing moist air to South America and the eastern Pacific. The Californian coast is also affected by this current, which brings torrential rains that often causes flooding and landslides.

coast is also affected by this current, which brings torrential rains that often causes flooding and

The global impacts of an El Niño year © NCEP

The global impacts of an El Niño year © NCEP

Effects on the Galapagos Islands

In 1997, when there was a significant El Niño event, it caused increased rainfall as well as increased temperatures throughout the winter of 1997/98. While this is suitable for some of the vegetation on the Galapagos Islands, many animals, particularly those that live in the sea or use it as a source for food had problems.

The introduction of warm waters altered the food chain, as it reduced the amount of nutrients available. It particularly affected the marine iguana due to a lack of their food source, green algae and caused their population to decline significantly.

Many seabirds, seals and fish disappeared from areas where they normally search for food. In addition birds such as albatrosses, penguins and cormorants were unable to breed successfully due to the conditions.

This 5 minute youtube video shows what happens during an el nino season:

during an el nino season: https://youtu.be/WPA-KpldDVc La Niña At certain times, the ‘normal’ situation

La Niña

At certain times, the ‘normal’ situation intensifies and is known as La Niña. During a La Niña event the low pressure over the western Pacific becomes even lower and high pressure over the eastern Pacific even higher. As a result of this, rainfall increases over South East Asia while South America experiences drought. Trade winds become stronger due to the increased pressure between the two areas. La Niña can occur just before or just after El Niño. During La Niña years the current reverses to move across the Pacific towards Australia, bringing moist air to Australia and the western Pacific. During this time, warm dry air blows over California from the American deserts, bringing drought and the threat of forest fires to California.

Climate Change

Ecosystems in Galapagos are strongly influenced by the climate. There is some research to suggest that global climate change could potentially lead to more frequent and even more intense El Niño events which could have serious implications for the Galapagos Islands (http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n2/full/nclimate2100.html ). Changes in sea temperature and rainfall would affect the biodiversity across the Islands.

Climate change predictions Researchers have created a series of scenarios for the how climate change

Climate change predictions

Researchers have created a series of scenarios for the how climate change may impact the world this century:

Higher average air temperatures: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate that global average temperatures could increase between 2 and 4°C by 2100. As the Galapagos Islands are located near the equator, it is likely that temperatures would rise by the global average.

Higher sea surface temperature: As the ocean absorbs excess heat from the atmosphere, the temperatures of the upper layers of the ocean are likely to increase. This would mean that the water surrounding the Galapagos Island would also get warmer, affecting marine species significantly.

Increased rainfall: Warming temperatures would likely lead to increased rainfall.

Sea level rise: Current estimates suggest that sea levels around the Islands have the potential to rise by around 1 meter by 2100. However, the overall effect of global sea level rise on the Galapagos Islands is difficult to predict because volcanic activity on some islands could cause the land to rise (or subside).

Ocean acidification: The IPCC estimates that by 2100, the oceans average pH will drop

between 0.14 and 0.35 units meaning it will become more acidic. This is likely to cause

a

loss of biodiversity for the Galapagos Islands.

If

there was increased ocean surface temperature this could result in reduced upwelling

of cold water which is essential to wildlife around the islands. Increased rainfall and temperatures could make conditions difficult for existing species or lead to the introduction of other invasive species which could disrupt the ecosystem.

There is also the possibility of sea level rise which could affect the island, reducing the areas of beaches which are used for nesting for species including penguins and turtles.

Impacts on species of Galapagos There are many species on the Galapagos Islands which could

Impacts on species of Galapagos

There are many species on the Galapagos Islands which could be affected by the changes in climate listed above. Some of these species and how they would be affected by climate change include:

Galapagos giant tortoise: Higher temperatures could trigger migrations which could reduce nesting success. Increase in temperatures could lead to a greater variety of insects which may lead to reduced hatching success.

Green turtle: Higher temperatures could disrupt egg development of the green turtles and sea level rise could reduce the size of beaches and therefore nesting areas.

Marine iguana: Much like turtles, increased temperatures could interfere with egg development and coastal erosion would reduce nesting area availability. Changes in air temperature could also interfere with iguanas ability to regulate body temperature as they are cold-blooded.

Blue footed booby: During El Niño events when temperatures are warmer, blue footed boobies have abandoned breeding colonies and increased migrations. Therefore increases in temperature due to climate change have the potential to have similar effects. Sea level rise could also cause nest losses. Reduced upwelling would also reduce their food supply.

Land iguanas: Changes in air temperature could interfere with iguana’s ability to regulate temperature much like the marine iguana. Changes in rainfall could reduce nesting success.

much like the marine iguana. Changes in rainfall could reduce nesting success. Galapagos Land Iguana ©

Galapagos Land Iguana © Les Lee