Yesterday there was a fantastic article published by Howard Falcon-Lang on the BBC website that detailed one of the greatest environmental experiments ever conducted. It centered on a tiny lump of rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a place known as Ascension Island, which the British Navy used as a stopping point and re-stocking center for its ships. It was also a stopping point for research boats in the early 1800’s and served as a spot for a young Charles Darwin and botanist Joseph Hooker to stop and reload their ships and pick up any communications from England. They stopped there on two separate voyages, years apart, but Darwin and Hooker communicated with each other about their journeys, and both were interested in Ascension. Out of their shared experience in seeing the rock that was Ascension Island, they decided, as an experiment to send as many plants there as possible, from Botanic Gardens all around the Atlantic.
They were attempting to see whether they could turn a desolate place into a habitable one, and surprisingly, it worked! Usually the process of colonization of small island by either plants or animals takes an incredibly long time, but in this case it only took a hundred years or so for the plants to start “terra-forming” the place. Now a jungle exists in the higher elevations on the island, watered by clouds. It’s a great story, but not many people know about Ascension, and why would they? It’s in the middle of nowhere. Literally.
Which brings us, (in an incredibly round-about way-sorry) to the subject of this post- the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. One of the longest, if not the longest mountain ranges in the world, it runs along the base of the Atlantic Ocean almost from pole to pole. It is the dividing line between the tectonic plates that border it, separating North America from Eurasia and South America from Africa. If you drained the Atlantic Ocean it would look like a spine running down the middle of the ocean basin. The vertebrae of this spine are volcanoes, who continually spit up lava from deep under the ocean crust, gradually pushing the continents on either side apart.