(from Science Codex)
The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world, with more than 50 eruptions in the last 200 years. Yet until recently, scientists knew far more about the history of finches, tortoises, and iguanas than of the volcanoes on which these unusual fauna had evolved.
Now research out of the University of Rochester is providing a better picture of the subterranean plumbing system that feeds the Galápagos volcanoes, as well as a major difference with another Pacific Island chain—the Hawaiian Islands. The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth.
"With a better understanding of what's beneath the volcanoes, we'll now be able to more accurately measure underground activity," said Cynthia Ebinger, a professor of earth and environmental sciences. "That should help us better anticipate earthquakes and eruptions, and mitigate the hazards associated with them."
Ebinger's team, which included Mario Ruiz from the Instituto Geofisico Escuela Politecnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador, buried 15 seismometers around Sierra Negra, the largest and most active volcano in the Galápagos. The equipment was used to measure the velocity and direction of different sound waves generated by earthquakes as they traveled under Sierra Negra. Since the behavior of the waves varies according to the temperature and types of material they're passing through, the data collected allowed the researchers to construct a 3D image of the plumbing system beneath the volcano, using a technique similar to a CAT-scan.
Five kilometers down is the beginning of a large magma chamber lying partially within old oceanic crust that had been buried by more than 8 km of eruptive rock layers. And the oceanic crust has what appears to be a thick underplating of rock formed when magma that was working its way toward the surface became trapped under the crust and cooled—very much like the processes that occur under the Hawaiian Islands.
The researchers found that the Galápagos had something else in common with the Hawaiian Islands. Their data suggest the presence of a large chamber filled with crystal-mush magma—cooled magma that includes crystallized minerals.
The Galápagos Islands formed from a hotspot of magma located in an oceanic plate—called Nazca—about 600 miles of Ecuador, in a process very similar to how the Hawaiian Islands were created. Magma rising from the hotspot eventually hardened into an island. Then, as the Nazca plate inched its way westward, new islands formed in the same manner, resulting in the present-day Galápagos Archipelago.
While there are several similarities between the two island chains, Ebinger uncovered a major difference. The older volcanos in the Hawaiian Islands are dormant, because they've moved away from the hotspot that provided the source of magma. In the Galápagos, the volcanoes are connected to the same plumbing system. By studying satellite views of the volcanoes, Ebinger and colleagues noticed that, as the magma would sink in one, it would rise in a different volcano—indicating that that some of the youngest volcanoes had magma connections, even if those connections were temporary.
"Not only do we have a better understanding of the physical properties of Sierra Negra," said Ebinger, "we have increased out knowledge of island volcano systems, in general."
CNH Tours has learned that last weekend, some Galapagos residents came across a non-poisonous “false coral” snake on the road in the highlands of Santa Cruz island. This was the first ever sighting of such a snake, which is not native to the Galapagos. Spotting introduced species as soon as possible is critical in the struggle to keep them out of Galapagos. If this was an escaped pet snake, then this threat will have been nipped in the bud – but if it’s one of many that are now proliferating in the island, it could spell trouble for native species. The Galapagos National Park Service (your entrance fees help fund their activities) immediately set about implementing emergency monitoring activities, to determine if there are other False coral snakes out there. “This includes forming a circle of a mile around the area in which it is found to determine the possible presence of more specimens in the field and prevent movement into protected areas , if any” said Danny Rueda , Director of the Galapagos National Park Ecosystem Conservation department. Repitle specialists at the Charles Darwin Foundation confirmed it was a false coral, which is not poisonous. The snake was killed and analyzed. It was a male, with an empty stomach. Despite the presence of an extensive phytosanitary control system, which focuses on keeping people from bringing in non-native species to the islands, it’s impossible to create a 100% secure barrier. If people wish to disregard the need to keep alien species out of Galapagos, there will always be someone who will slip something through. "The quarantine systems can only be efficient if the citizens of the islands assume their responsibility, and refrain from bringing new species here” said Marilyn Cruz, Executive Director of the biosecurity agency for Galapagos (and old friend of CNH Tours).
Introduced snakes can have a catastrophic impact on island species. The most notorious examples is that of the brown tree snake, which was accidentally introduced to Guam in 1952, likely in a cargo ship. Within 10 years, most of the island’s birds had disappeared, including several extinctions, as this snake climbs into trees and eats eggs and chicks.
The Galapagos National Park Service reported yesterday that it had retained two small boats from the Ecuaorian coastal fishing port of Manta during an control operation. They were retrained for trespassing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and for the use of banned fishing techniques such as longline fishing (a 2-3 km fishing line with hundreds of hooks, that capture anything from fish, sealions and albatrosses). Fishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve is allowed only to Galapagos based fishermen, and only using artisanal techniques. The operation, in coordination with the maritime authority was held on February 8 at five nautical miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, where rangers detained the Scarlett I with three crew and theJudith Crissel III with two crew. During the inspection the crew reported that they were conducting fishing operations in coordination with a large mother ship, the Don Elio II located just outside the Marine Reserve boundary. This is a common practice – whereby the big ships linger just on the edge of legality, but send the small ships into the reserve. Among the evidence, the rangers found aboard three swordfish. The boat and crew were taken to Santa Cruz, where they were turned over to the appropriate authority.
Location of captured boats:
It is a sad fact that the number of vehicles in Galapagos, particularly on Santa Cruz island, seems to be much greater than necessary for a place where 90% of your trips are little more than a few hundred meters long! However, some people do come up with original ideas that, while adding to the number of vehicles, at least celebrate the location. Here's a recent pic, posted on the Galapagos Conservancy website and taken in Puerto Ayora - next to the fishermen's wharf.
The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) has suspended the operations of Darwin and Wolf Buddy scuba diving boats in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) for not having complied with the provisions of their operating license.
The GNPS reported today that the operators had not submitted semiannual reports on their performance regarding the Galapagos National Park Environmental Management Plan, nor had they presented environmental compliance audits, and nor had they paid their respective annual Environmental Management Plan performance bond.
CNH Tours recommends that anyone having arranged any trips with these two ships in the coming weeks and months should enquire with their agent to ensure alternative plans are made, or refunds provided.
A statue of "Darwin as a Young Man", showing him as he was when he visited Galapagos on the HMS Beagle, was officially commissioned today, as reported today by Swen Lorenz, the Charles Darwin Research Station director (pictured below, with a sample of the work of the Ecuadorian artist the Station is hiring for the job. Unveiling: March 2014.). Darwin will be presented in a relaxed position sitting on a bench, so that the Station's 100,000+ visitors can easily pose for photos with him. He will be placed outside of the science buildings in the research station, as a part of its upcoming new interpretation trail.
CNH Tours is not much of a "PEOPLE MAGAZINE" kind of organization, but we have come across a few "stars" in the islands. My husband once bumped into John Malkovich, who was visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, and took him to be an old time farmer from Santa Cruz highlands! We also said hello to Alan Alda, and spotted Susan Sarandon...
Here's a news item we came across today:
Hollywood veterans Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman will celebrate their marriage reunion with an end-of-year holiday in the Galapagos Islands.The Matilda co-stars shocked friends and fans in October, 2012 when they announced they had separated after 30 years of marriage, but they managed to work out their issues and reconciled in March (13) - and now DeVito is whisking his wife away for her dream vacation. She tells Closer magazine, "It's one of those trips that I have always wanted to do."
The effects of climate change in the Galápagos Islands are
posing a severe threat to one of the world's rarest seabirds, a
decade-long historical study led by a University of Queensland
researcher has revealed.
The unique flightless cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi, is found
only on the coasts of two Islands in the Galápagos archipelago and
relies on cold, nutrient-rich water provided by the Equatorial
These heavy, flightless, diving birds evolved from a light,
flying ancestor due to the absence of predators and abundance of
in-shore sea food in the isolated Galápagos region.
UQ's Emeritus Professor Robert Tindle, the lead author on the
study, said the species was a striking example of evolution in the
Galápagos which so intrigued 19th-century naturalist, Charles
Emeritus Professor Tindle said the species' sensitivity to
changes in water temperature was now threatening its survival.
"The population of these birds is currently low at about 1000
adult pairs, and this number has dropped as low as 400 pairs after
a period of warmer ocean temperatures around the islands," he
"90% of breading occurs when ocean temperatures are between
18-23 degrees Celsius.
"An increase of just two degrees Celsius can significantly
reduce breeding due to decreased availability of food."
During the cold upwelling of the Equatorial Undercurrent there
is an abundance of fish available to the flightless cormorants
through shallow-water foraging within a few hundred meters of the
During El Niño - Southern Oscillation events, which persist in
the area for 11-18 months, the Equatorial Undercurrent weakens,
leading to warmer, nutrient-poor water at the surface and a
reduction in the abundance of prey.
"The frequency and severity of El Niño - Southern Oscillation
events in Galápagos have increased and it has been shown that this
is most likely a result of climate change,"
Emeritus Professor Tindle said.
"During these periods when ocean surface temperatures range
between 23-28 degrees Celsius, Flightless Cormorants lay fewer
clutches of eggs and have fewer juveniles survive.
"These birds have evolved to breed when water temperatures are
cold and food is abundant.
"Either long-term or frequent short-term rises of just a few
degrees in local sea surface temperature could pose a catastrophic
threat to this species."
The research was carried out in Galápagos by scientists from The
University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and
the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK) between 1970-1980, with
annual checks conducted by scientists at the Charles Darwin
Research Station, Galápagos, from 1980 to 2012.
When people ask me about my time in Galapagos, most are
surprised to find out that there is a substantial population of
Ecuadorians actually living there. The islands were
first discovered (at least by Western eyes - there is some poorly
substantiated evidence that indigenous groups from the mainland may
have been there at one point) in 1635, but weren't permanently
settled until the early 1800's. Until the
2nd World War, the population remained very small,
perhaps a few hundred people living on the three main
islands. The war brought in military investment, which
attracted more people - as Baltra island was used as an American
advance base for the protection of the Panama Canal against
potential Japanese attack. After the war, the
population was somewhere in the 1,000 to 2,000 range until the
1960's, even early 1970's - when it became feasible for the first
time for people to consider visiting the islands as
tourists. Tourism growth was exponential over the
following decades, going from about nothing to about 200,000 annual
arrivals in recent years. The expanding tourism
economy, along with a short but intensive 1990's boom in fisheries
drew in many economic migrants from the continent.
The island's population now stands at about 30,000 permanent and
long-term temporary residents. These are scattered among 5
islands - in order of importance - Santa Cruz, with the main town
of Puerto Ayora, San Cristobal, with its town of Puerto Baquerizo
Moreno, Villamil on Isabel island, and Floreana island (population
of about 100). Baltra island has a small contingent of
military personnel who manage the airport there.
That leaves well over 100 uninhabited islands in the
Below: boys enjoy a good game at Santa
Rosa, in the Santa Cruz island highlands. Thanks to Wilson
Cabrera, a top goat hunter and former colleague, for the
The Galapagos National Park reported that over the weekend,
today during a control operation conducted by the Galapagos
National Park (GNP) at different coastal sites of San Cristobal
island, a shipment of 18 jute bags containing dry salted sea
cucumbers was discovered.
The Park immediately proceeded in the confiscation of the sea
cucumbers and moved them to the Parks offices on that
island. Park staff counted 32 477 sea cucumbers, most of the
species Isostichopus horrens . Later sea cucumbers were
placed in 43 pouches in which they remain in custody of the
respective GNP , during the administrative and criminal process
that will begin to investigate was is considered an environmental
crime in Ecuador.
Carlos Rivera, president of the Fisheries and Seafood
Cooperative, San Cristobal, stated that the illegal harvesting of
sea cucumbers is regrettable because it undermines the natural
resource's ability to regenerate itself and to continue providing a
livelihood to local fishermen.
The sea cucumber is a protected species in the Galapagos Marine
Reserve and worldwide, some species are on the IUCN RedList of
endangered species, and protected by the Convention on the
International Trade in Endangered threatened Flora and Fauna
(CITES). They are extremely important to ecosystems as they
oxygenate the ocean floor. Sea cucumbers are related to star
fish, and sought after mostly by the Asia market.