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When we look around our world today, we see a dynamic, almost chaotic planet that is constantly changing. Volcanoes erupt, the earths crust moves, mountains are weathered and other such activities occur around the world at almost any given moment. These dynamic events occur with such frequency and repetition that clearly defining a beginning or end is exceedingly difficult. Considering this difficulty and by relying on purely observational information, one can only assume that the processes that go on today have been going on since the earth was created. This precise idea is the very platform of the scientific view called uniformitarianism.
At the very dawning of the science of historical geology, James Hutton developed views on the earths geologic processes and ow they affect the planet unlike any other scientist before him. His idea that the planets processes revolved in a cyclic fashion were the cornerstone of uniformitarianism. Although he did not coin the phrase himself, an honor bestowed upon William Whewell, he did form the basic idea that the history of the earth can be explained by what is happening now.
Since this time, the term uniformitarianism has been manipulated, altered, and redefined to mean a variety of different meanings spanning various fields of science. However, in the field of geology, uniformitarianism (or actualism) means something very specific. The term does not denote that every process we see before us now has been going on for eons, rather it stand for the chemical and physical laws that govern todays processes. Evidence shows that the ancient atmosphere of the earth is extremely different from the one we can see today. There fore, the means by which erosion and weathering of rocks that occurred then is a far cry from the ones we study in modern times. However, erosion and weathering still occurred, even if by different means. Most geologic processes are governed by a set of natural laws which uniformitarianism infers have always set the standard for geologic activity. If water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, what evidence is there to prove it has ever been different? Similarly, if rainwater falls on a mountain, erodes the rock, carries sediment to a stream, and then deposits sediments in the stream bed, what evidence proves nature has ever deviated from this? The rate of change and intensity of the processes have varied a great deal in the history of the earth and the fact is, there are some ancient processes that we do not see today. However, in the grand scheme of things, studying current geologic activity can give us a great deal of information about ancient environments and may even give us a clue as to our planets origins.
Just as historians and archeologists study artifacts and records of past human civilizations, so too does historical geologists study the records of past geologic activity. The archeologist may look at a broken piece of pottery and, using previous knowledge and evidence, come to the conclusion that the pottery was from a certain tribe or civilization that thrived during a specific time in history. Almost instantaneously, the archeologist can recreate and entire lifestyle using other artifacts gathered and similar information. The historical geologists job is quite similar, although the artifacts are typically much older. If, while out in the field one day, a geologist comes across a few layers of sandstone with alternating layers of conglomerates and fine grains, he instantly knows that this rock was formed from a stream bed that varied in water velocity at certain times during its formation. By studying the rock more closely, the geologist can determine what type of rock was weathered to form the sandstone and, using geologic maps, almost pinpoint the location of the parent rock. With just a little research, the geologist has recreated a basic history of the rock. The archeologist cannot determine that beyond a shadow of a doubt, the pottery was formed by human hands nor can the geologist be absolutely certain that the sandstone was formed the way he proposed. However, using the idea of uniformitarianism, both scientists can state that because there is no evidence proving otherwise, this must have been formed in this way. The archeologist knows of ... more
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A volcano is a mountain or hill formed by the accumulation of materials erupted through one or more openings in the earth's surface. Most volcanoes have steep sides but sometimes they can slope down or even be flat. The volcanoes above sea level are the best known, but the most volcanoes lie beneath the sea, formed along the global oceanic ridge. Volcanic eruptions in populated regions are a significant threat to people, property, and agriculture. The danger is mostly from fast-moving, hot flows of explosively erupted materials, falling ash, and highly destructive lava flows and volcanic debris. In addition, explosive eruptions, even from volcanoes in unpopulated regions, can eject ash high into the atmosphere, creating drifting volcanic ash clouds that pose a serious hazard to airplanes.
Lava is magma that breaks the surface and erupts from a volcano. If the magma is very fluid, it flows rapidly down the volcano's slopes. Lava that is more sticky and less fluid moves slower. Lava flows that have a continuous, smooth, ropy, or billowy surface are called pahoehoe flows. But aa flows have a jagged surface composed of loose, irregularly shaped lava chunks. Once cooled, pahoehoe forms smooth rocks, while aa forms jagged rocks. The words pahoehoe and aa are Hawaiian terms that describe the texture of the lava
All volcanoes are formed by the accumulation of. Magma can erupt through one or more volcanic vents, which can be a single opening, a cluster of openings, or a long crack, called a fissure vent. It forms deep within the earth, generally within the upper part of the mantle one of the layers of the earth's crust. Or less commonly within the base of the earths crust. High temperatures and pressures are needed to form magma. Volcanic activity ranges from emission of gases, non-explosive lava emissions to extremely violent explosive bursts that may last many hours. The types of eruptions determine the relative volumes and types of volcaniclastic material and lava flows, consequently the shapes and sizes of volcanoes. A volcanic event occurs when there is a sudden or continuing release of energy caused by near-surface or surface magma movement. The energy can be in the form of earthquakes, gas-emission at the surface, release of heat, explosive release of gases and the non-explosive extrusion or intrusion of magma. An event could be non-destructive without release of solids or magmatic liquid, or if there is anything to destroy, could be destructive with voluminous lava flows or explosive activity. A volcanic event can include an eruptive pulse usually an explosion with an eruption plume, but also non-explosive surges of lava. A pulse may last a few seconds to minutes. Then an eruptive phase that may last a few hours to days and consist of numerous eruptive pulses that may alternate between explosions and lava surges. Or a single eruption or eruptive episode, composed of several phases that may last a few days or even months. Some volcanoes may form completely within a few weeks or months. Others, such as shield volcanoes and composite volcanoes may show high order discontinuities such as major chemical changes, volcano-tectonic events like caldera collapse, or long erosional intervals.
During a single eruption, styles of activity and types of products may change within minutes or hours, depending upon changes in magma composition, volatiles, or other magma chamber and vent conditions. Volcanic eruptions and eruptive phases are traditionally classified according to a wide range of criteria. Many have been given names from volcanoes where a certain type of behavior. Common eruptions types are Plinian, Hawaiian, Strombolian, and Vulcanian. Volcanoes occur when magma makes its way to the surface of the earth. One type of volcanic eruption is a rift eruption. A rift eruption occurs at a diverging boundary. They are non-violent eruptions, and mafic magma is usually involved. Subduction eruptions occur at a subduction boundary. They are usually very violent, and involve felsic magma. Hot Spot eruptions occur in the middle of a plate, not at a boundary. They are non-violent. Magma is molten rock found in the mantle. Mafic magma is low in silica, dark colored magma and does not trap gases, forms basalt. Felsic magma is rich in silica, light colored magma, ... more
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