Telling people I want to be a volcanologist when I live in London always gets a raised eyebrow, a look like I have just told them unicorns are real. Yes there are no ACTIVE volcanoes in the Britain now and yes my end game is to study volcanism further afield then these shores, but it is not as strange a career for an Englishman as people think. Britain was the birth place of modern geology. Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), James Hutton (1726-1797) and William Smith (1769-1839) were all British. And Britain its self has some of the most spectacular and studied geological features in the world.
But just sticking to the volcanological side of things Britain has had its share of igneous activity albeit not recent. The map below complied by the British Geological Survey shows the bedrock of Britain and by looking at the bottom of the colour coded key, you can see the areas of intrusive and even extrusive igneous rock. Crash course in the difference between the two: when molten rock (magma) solidifies within the Earth before getting a chance to erupt at the surface, it cools slowly allowing for crystal growth and producing course grained intrusive rocks such as granite. When magma erupts the contact with the air speeds up solidification leaving us with much finer grained extrusive igneous rock such a rhyolite, chemically similar to granite but structurally different.
The Giants Causeway in County Antrim is probably the most visually stunning evidence for Britain’s volcanic past. The pentagonal columns are a common volcanic feature where the basalt they are made from cooling and shrinking causing jointing. This is also seen in figure 1 along the coast of Scotland.
Coming away the rock under our feet, Britain can also be effected by volcanic events a little further afield; Iceland. Most of you will remember when Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 2010 as it grounded flights across Europe but delayed travel plans are the least of our worries. From June 1783 to February 1784 the Laki fissure system discharged an estimated 14 km3 basaltic lava and so much sulphur dioxide it is believed to have caused the deaths of almost 6 million worldwide as climate was disturbed causing crop failures and the onset of famine. The sulphur dioxide caused sulphuric acid rain and in Britain it is believed 23 000 people were killed by poisoning and a further 8000 killed by extreme winter conditions caused by the gas in the atmosphere.
So whether it be the coast line you walk along or the granite worktop you prepare your dinner, or in more obvious airport delays or volcanic climate shifts, volcanism plays a part in our lives even here in Britain…
Seaview, Fionnphort, Isle Of Mull, Argyll http://www.visitscotland.com/info/accommodation/seaview-bed-breakfast-fionnphort-p191851 accessed 03/08/14
BGS geological map of Britain http://www.thegeologytrusts.org/pub/our-earth-heritage/ accessed 03/08/14
The Giants Causeway http://researchmaniacs.com/NaturalWonders/onEarth.html accessed 03/08/14