Darwin the geologist
For an interesting look at Darwin’s geological work on the Beagle voyage, see the article in Natural History magazine, February 2009, by Richard Milner — “Seeing corals with the eye of reason – a rediscovered painting celebrates Darwin’s view of life” — which tells the story of Darwin’s gradual understanding of how coral atolls formed over time. One statement struck me in particular, namely when Milner writes “Darwin was struck by the evidence that vast areas of the ocean floor — not just larger landmasses — were seething with activity, both seismic and animal.” Wouldn’t he be surprised to see what living things have been and are being discovered by explorers of the great thermal rifts on the ocean floors today? Lyell had predicted that his theory of coral atoll formation would be contentious, and the article tells how it was not definitively verified until 1950. At that time geophysicists drilled test cores of the coral atoll in the Marshall Islands (Eniwetok) to the deepest point ever done, 4,200 feet, where they hit “a greenish basalt, the volcanic mountain on which the reef had originated.” Then the US Government test of the first hydrogen bomb destroyed the atoll.