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- VOLCANIC ISLANDS - 6/30 -
affirm that they are parts of one great formation, stretching round much of the circumference of the island.
The upper and lower strata of these hills differ greatly in composition. The upper are basaltic, generally compact, but sometimes scoriaceous and amygdaloidal, with associated masses of wacke: where the basalt is compact, it is either fine-grained or very coarsely crystallised; in the latter case it passes into an augitic rock, containing much olivine; the olivine is either colourless, or of the usual yellow and dull reddish shades. On some of the hills, beds of calcareous matter, both in an earthy and in a crystalline form, including fragments of glossy scoriae, are associated with the basaltic strata. These strata differ from the streams of basaltic lava forming the coast-plains, only in being more compact, and in the crystals of augite, and in the grains of olivine being of much greater size;--characters which, together with the appearance of the associated calcareous beds, induce me to believe that they are of submarine formation.
Some considerable masses of wacke, which are associated with these basaltic strata, and which likewise occur in the basal series on the coast, especially at Quail Island, are curious. They consist of a pale yellowish- green argillaceous substance, of a crumbling texture when dry, but unctuous when moist: in its purest form, it is of a beautiful green tint, with translucent edges, and occasionally with obscure traces of an original cleavage. Under the blowpipe it fuses very readily into a dark grey, and sometimes even black bead, which is slightly magnetic. From these characters, I naturally thought that it was one of the pale species, decomposed, of the genus augite;--a conclusion supported by the unaltered rock being full of large separate crystals of black augite, and of balls and irregular streaks of dark grey augitic rock. As the basalt ordinarily consists of augite, and of olivine often tarnished and of a dull red colour, I was led to examine the stages of decomposition of this latter mineral, and I found, to my surprise, that I could trace a nearly perfect gradation from unaltered olivine to the green wacke. Part of the same grain under the blowpipe would in some instances behave like olivine, its colour being only slightly changed, and part would give a black magnetic bead. Hence I can have no doubt that the greenish wacke originally existed as olivine; but great chemical changes must have been effected during the act of decomposition thus to have altered a very hard, transparent, infusible mineral, into a soft, unctuous, easily melted, argillaceous substance. (D'Aubuisson "Traite de Geognosie" tome 2 page 569 mentions, on the authority of M. Marcel de Serres, masses of green earth near Montpellier, which are supposed to be due to the decomposition of olivine. I do not, however, find, that the action of this mineral under the blowpipe being entirely altered, as it becomes decomposed, has been noticed; and the knowledge of this fact is important, as at first it appears highly improbable that a hard, transparent, refractory mineral should be changed into a soft, easily fused clay, like this of St. Jago. I shall hereafter describe a green substance, forming threads within the cells of some vesicular basaltic rocks in Van Diemen's Land, which behave under the blowpipe like the green wacke of St. Jago; but its occurrence in cylindrical threads, shows it cannot have resulted from the decomposition of olivine, a mineral always existing in the form of grains or crystals.)
The basal strata of these hills, as well as some neighbouring, separate, bare, rounded hillocks, consist of compact, fine-grained, non-crystalline (or so slightly as scarcely to be perceptible), ferruginous, feldspathic rocks, and generally in a state of semi-decomposition. Their fracture is exceedingly irregular, and splintery; yet small fragments are often very tough. They contain much ferruginous matter, either in the form of minute grains with a metallic lustre, or of brown hair-like threads: the rock in this latter case assuming a pseudo-brecciated structure. These rocks sometimes contain mica and veins of agate. Their rusty brown or yellowish colour is partly due to the oxides of iron, but chiefly to innumerable, microscopically minute, black specks, which, when a fragment is heated, are easily fused, and evidently are either hornblende or augite. These rocks, therefore, although at first appearing like baked clay or some altered sedimentary deposit, contain all the essential ingredients of trachyte; from which they differ only in not being harsh, and in not containing crystals of glassy feldspar. As is so often the case with trachytic formation, no stratification is here apparent. A person would not readily believe that these rocks could have flowed as lava; yet at St. Helena there are well-characterised streams (as will be described in an ensuing chapter) of nearly similar composition. Amidst the hillocks composed of these rocks, I found in three places, smooth conical hills of phonolite, abounding with fine crystals of glassy feldspar, and with needles of hornblende. These cones of phonolite, I believe, bear the same relation to the surrounding feldspathic strata which some masses of coarsely crystallised augitic rock, in another part of the island, bear to the surrounding basalt, namely, that both have been injected. The rocks of a feldspathic nature being anterior in origin to the basaltic strata, which cap them, as well as to the basaltic streams of the coast-plains, accords with the usual order of succession of these two grand divisions of the volcanic series.
The strata of most of these hills in the upper part, where alone the planes of division are distinguishable, are inclined at a small angle from the interior of the island towards the sea-coast. The inclination is not the same in each hill; in that marked A it is less than in B, D, or E; in C the strata are scarcely deflected from a horizontal plane, and in F (as far as I could judge without ascending it) they are slightly inclined in a reverse direction, that is, inwards and towards the centre of the island. Notwithstanding these differences of inclination, their correspondence in external form, and in the composition both of their upper and lower parts,- -their relative position in one curved line, with their steepest sides turned inwards,--all seem to show that they originally formed parts of one platform; which platform, as before remarked, probably extended round a considerable portion of the circumference of the island. The upper strata certainly flowed as lava, and probably beneath the sea, as perhaps did the lower feldspathic masses: how then come these strata to hold their present position, and whence were they erupted?
In the centre of the island there are lofty mountains, but they are separated from the steep inland flanks of these hills by a wide space of lower country: the interior mountains, moreover, seem to have been the source of those great streams of basaltic lava which, contracting as they pass between the bases of the hills in question, expand into the coast- plains. (I saw very little of the inland parts of the island. Near the village of St. Domingo, there are magnificent cliffs of rather coarsely crystallised basaltic lava. Following the little stream in this valley, about a mile above the village, the base of the great cliff was formed of a compact fine-grained basalt, conformably covered by a bed of pebbles. Near Fuentes, I met with pap-formed hills of the compact feldspathic series of rocks.) Round the shores of St. Helena there is a rudely formed ring of basaltic rocks, and at Mauritius there are remnants of another such a ring round part, if not round the whole, of the island; here again the same question immediately occurs, how came these masses to hold their present position, and whence were they erupted? The same answer, whatever it may be, probably applies in these three cases; and in a future chapter we shall recur to this subject.
VALLEYS NEAR THE COAST.
These are broad, very flat, and generally bounded by low cliff-formed sides. Portions of the basaltic plain are sometimes nearly or quite isolated by them; of which fact, the space on which the town of Praya stands offers an instance. The great valley west of the town has its bottom filled up to a depth of more than twenty feet by well-rounded pebbles, which in some parts are firmly cemented together by white calcareous matter. There can be no doubt, from the form of these valleys, that they were scooped out by the waves of the sea, during that equable elevation of the land, of which the horizontal calcareous deposit, with its existing species of marine remains, gives evidence. Considering how well shells have been preserved in this stratum, it is singular that I could not find even a single small fragment of shell in the conglomerate at the bottom of the valleys. The bed of pebbles in the valley west of the town is intersected by a second valley joining it as a tributary, but even this valley appears much too wide and flat-bottomed to have been formed by the small quantity of water, which falls only during one short wet season; for at other times of the year these valleys are absolutely dry.
On the shores of Quail Island, I found fragments of brick, bolts of iron, pebbles, and large fragments of basalt, united by a scanty base of impure calcareous matter into a firm conglomerate. To show how exceedingly firm this recent conglomerate is, I may mention, that I endeavoured with a heavy geological hammer to knock out a thick bolt of iron, which was embedded a little above low-water mark, but was quite unable to succeed.
CHAPTER II.--FERNANDO NORONHA; TERCEIRA; TAHITI, ETC.
FERNANDO NORONHA. Precipitous hill of phonolite.
TERCEIRA. Trachytic rocks: their singular decomposition by steam of high temperature.
TAHITI. Passage from wacke into trap; singular volcanic rock with the vesicles half-filled with mesotype.
MAURITIUS. Proofs of its recent elevation. Structure of its more ancient mountains; similarity with St. Jago.
ST. PAUL'S ROCKS. Not of volcanic origin. Their singular mineralogical composition.
During our short visit at this and the four following islands, I observed very little worthy of description. Fernando Noronha is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, in latitude 3 degrees 50 minutes S., and 230 miles distant from the coast of South America. It consists of several islets, together nine miles in length by three in breadth. The whole seems to be of volcanic origin; although there is no appearance of any crater, or of any one central eminence. The most remarkable feature is a hill 1,000 feet high, of which the upper 400 feet consist of a precipitous, singularly shaped pinnacle, formed of columnar phonolite, containing numerous crystals of glassy feldspar, and a few needles of hornblende. From the highest accessible point of this hill, I could distinguish in different parts of the group several other conical hills, apparently of the same nature. At St. Helena there are similar, great, conical, protuberant masses of phonolite, nearly one thousand feet in height, which have been formed by the injection of fluid feldspathic lava into yielding strata. If this hill has had, as is probable, a similar origin, denudation has been here effected on an enormous scale. Near the base of this hill, I observed beds of white tuff, intersected by numerous dikes, some of amygdaloidal basalt and others of trachyte; and beds of slaty phonolite with the planes of cleavage directed N.W. and S.E. Parts of this rock, where the crystals were scanty, closely resembled common clay-slate, altered by the contact of a trap-dike. The lamination of rocks, which undoubtedly have once been fluid, appears to me a subject well deserving attention. On the beach there were numerous fragments of compact basalt, of which rock a distant facade of columns seemed to be formed.
TERCEIRA IN THE AZORES.
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