Ever since Charles Darwin showed up here in 1835, there have been over 60 recorded eruptions on 6 of the volcanoes. Many people are fascinated by how such a delicate ecosystem – complete with its own micro-climate – exists in such a volatile place!
Historically, the critically endangered wildlife of the Galapagos has always been on the brink of destruction.
How were the Galapagos Islands formed?
The islands were formed from shield volcanoes and lava plateaus. Some of the islands are single volcanoes rising out of the ocean, others, like Isabela Island, are made up of several convergent volcanoes.
These volcanoes all rise out of what’s called the Galapagos Platform – a large lava plateau that creates a shallow area around the islands between about 1,200 and 3,000 feet (360 to 900 m) below the ocean’s surface. The diameter of this plateau is roughly 170 miles (280 km).
This platform is what’s known as a Hot Spot – a stationary hot plume from the Earth’s molten core melts through the crust and pumps magma upwards.
As the tectonic plates move and shift, an archipelago of volcanic islands is created, similar to how Hawaii was formed. As new volcanoes are created, the older ones become extinct as they’re shifted away from the stationary plume.
The volcanoes that form the Galapagos are considered to be relatively new. They’re estimated to be between 700,000 and 4.2 million years old.
Here are some of the volcanoes that formed the islands:
- Sierra Negra: a large shield volcano at the southeastern end of Isabela Island that rises to an altitude of 1124 m. It coalesces with the volcanoes Cerro Azul to the west and Alcedo to the north. The volcano is one of the most active in the Galapagos, with the last eruption starting on 22 October 2005, and lasting until 30 October 2005.
- Cerro Azul: a shield volcano on the southwestern part of Isabela Island, and is one of the most active in the Galapagos, with its last eruption between May and June 2008.
- Fernandina: Steam and gas plumes rose 13,000 feet (4 km) during this eruption, and lava flowed down the sides of this volcano. The explosions from this eruption lasted a few weeks. Many experts consider this to be the youngest and most active of the volcanoes in the Galapagos. Because of this constant activity, the volcano (which is basically a complete island sticking out of the ocean) doesn’t have much plant life and has a predominantly rocky surface.
- Santa Cruz: The highlands of the broad Santa Cruz shield volcano rise to the north above the renowned Charles Darwin Research Station at Academy Bay. The oval-shaped, 32 x 40 km wide island is capped by youthful pit craters and cinder cones with well-preserved craters that largely bury a shallow summit caldera. Older uplifted submarine lava flows are found on the NE part of the island and at the fault-delimited offshore island of Baltra.
- Wolf: the highest peak in the Galápagos Islands, is situated on Isabela Island and reaches 1,707 m (5,600 ft). It is a shield volcano with a characteristic upturned soup-bowl shape. Inactive for 33 years, the Wolf Volcano erupted on May 25, 2015. The volcano is not located near a populated area. The lava is flowing down the volcano's east and southeast sides, so the pink land iguanas inhabiting the north and west sides have not been endangered.
What about wildlife?
It’s hard to know exactly what’s been going on historically on these islands from a flora and fauna standpoint. It’s suspected that Fernandina Island had its own species of giant tortoise about 100 years ago, but there’s pretty well only animals that can swim that life there now.
In more recent history, conservationists have had to step in at times to save local species from extinction. For example, this happened in 2008 with the Cerro Azul volcano.
To conclude, some of the volcanoes of the Galapagos still active but it’s never been a problem for tourism in the islands, in fact, this is one of the many attractions you can find in this little part of Ecuador.
Learn more about what to see and where to see it in the Galapagos Islands here.
Check this special tour and don´t miss the opportunity to visit Galapagos Islands wonders