Galapagos Islands Geography

Located over 1000 km from the South American continent, the Galapagos Islands (officially named the Archipelago of Colon) are a dynamic region constantly changing with volcanic eruptions, new lava fields forming and islands eroding and expanding.

In total land area, the islands are (7880 sq. km and in the total geographical area from Darwin Island to San Cristobal and Espanola, 45,000 sq. km.

The largest island is Isabela, at 4855 sq. km, while it makes up close to half the land area of the Galapagos, is still less than half the size of the island of Hawaii. Its largest volcano, Volcan Wolf has maximum altitude of 1707 m making it the highest point in the archipelago. Each major island being part of the Galapagos Islands Geography, with the exception of the largest island, Isabela, consists of a single large shield volcano. Isabela was formed from six volcanoes joined above sea level. The islands all rose from the ocean floor as the tops of volcanoes, possibly during the Pliocene era, and have never been connected by land to any mainland area. Today, the Galapagos Islands remain one of the most active oceanic volcano areas on Earth.


Just as the extraordinary wildlife of the Galapagos Islands is critical to the study of biology, the unique geology of the islands has implications for the whole planet. In geological terms, the Galapagos Islands geography is quite young, probably no more than five million years old. Some of the westernmost islands, which are the most volcanically active, are actually still forming. Fernandina, for example, at its current rate of activity, may one day expand to meet the shores of Isabela, creating a single, large island. As these amazing changes take place, scientists can observe the effects of the tides, wind and weather on the process.

Though the islands are now quite isolated, at 600 miles from the nearest mainland, some biologists believe that the Coco tectonic plate, which runs under the sea and extends almost the entire distance from Costa Rica to the northern islands, was once a land bridge. These biologists use this theory to explain how some of the life on the Galapagos Islands arrived there, but it has not yet been proven. Although many species of flora and fauna that thrive on the Galapagos Islands resemble those native to South America, they have evolved so extensively in isolation that they now appear very different from their mainland ancestors.

There are four main ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands, which have been formed over time by wind patterns, differences in elevation and other Galapagos Islands geography characteristics.

Today, there are human settlements on four of the major islands. Tourism is the main business, though cattle and coffee are two popular exports.

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