The geological travels of Sir Charles Lyell in Madeira and the Canary Islands, 1853–1854
L. G. Wilson, 2007. "The geological travels of Sir Charles Lyell in Madeira and the Canary Islands, 1853–1854", Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel, P. N. Wyse Jackson
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Throughout his life, Lyell travelled extensively, always as a keen observer. He viewed the Earth's geological history as continuous with and subject to the same processes of change as at present. Leopold von Buch's theory of craters of elevation contradicted Lyell's view of Earth history. Thus Lyell travelled to Madeira and the Canary Islands in 1853 to see von Buch's evidence. Lyell found the islands formed by a long series of volcanic eruptions, not by the single explosive upheaval that von Buch had described. Nevertheless, Lyell still accepted Léonce Élie de Beaumont's claim that lava flows could not form compact rock on steep slopes. In 1855, Lyell learned from Eilhard Mitscherlich that on Stromboli contemporary steeply inclined lava flows were forming solid rock. In 1857, Lyell went to Sicily where unmistakable evidence contradicted Élie de Beaumont. In the walls of the Valle del Bove, steeply inclined layers of lava were intersected by dykes that pointed towards a former centre of eruption at Trifoglietto, later buried by volcanic rocks emitted from the present centre of eruption at the summit of Etna, proving that the Valle del Bove could not have originated as a crater of elevation.
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In the last four centuries geologists have traversed the globe, searching for economically important materials or simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Geologists have often been at the vanguard of scientific exploration.
The microscopist Robert Hooke explored the Isle of Wight, and Charles Darwin the Cape Verde islands and parts of South America. The volcanic wonders of Italy and central France attracted native and foreign visitors including Lyell and Murchison. The Tyrrell brothers faced great hardship in northern Canada, as did the actor and mineralogist Charles Lewis Giesecke in Greenland. The development of Sydney, Australia depended on finding limestone for building. French geologists relied on camels in the Sahara, and Grenville Cole trusted his tricycle to carry him across Europe.
Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel focuses on the complexities of geological exploration and will be of particular interest to Earth scientists, historians of science and to the general reader interested in science.