Alexandra’s Nature Field Note


Legend states that many years ago there was an Irish giant and a Scottish giant who did not like each other. They were continuously arguing and hurling chunks of earth into the ocean at one another. While this story sounds intriguing and many locals believe it to be the truth I journeyed to The Giant’s Causeway to form my own conclusions.

Intro: What do we see in nature?

I was lucky enough to take the class, or module as they call it here in Ireland, The Geological Evolution of Ireland. As a part of this class I was able to journey about seven hours north of Cork City to County Antrim. In County Antrim I was able to investigate some of the main types of rocks in Ireland.

The coolest thing I saw in nature was a rock formation, or outcropping, called The Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that many years ago there was an Irish giant and a Scottish giant who did not get along. One day they were arguing so much that they began to hurl chunks of earth towards each other resulting in a path being formed across the sea.

Throughout their fighting the Irish giant dared the Scottish giant to come over and fight him face to face. The Irish giant was so tired from the endless arguing that he did not have enough energy to actually fight the Scottish giant, so he devised, or came up with, a plan to fool the Scottish giant. The Irish giant disguised himself as a baby and went to take a nap in a cradle. By the time the Scottish giant got to Ireland and demanded to fight, the wife informed him that the Irish giant was away, but he could see their son if he liked. The Scottish giant took one look at their “baby”, which of course was actually the Irish giant, saw how big the baby was and did not want to wait around to see how much bigger the real “father” Irish giant was. Bolting back to Scotland, the Scottish giant tore up the path they had originally created by hurling the chunks of earth at one another, which is now known as the Giant’s Causeway.

What does this creature or plant look like?

Well, the legend is fun and all but here is the real story of the infamous Giant’s Causeway. As you first come around the bend in the road all you see is a line of rocks ranging from light brown to dark black in color that extend out into the ocean but as you hike in closer you begin to see the vertical columns that join together creating a very unusual and interesting display of a rock grouping, also known as rock outcroppings.

The Giant’s Causeway was formed about 62 million years ago at the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. The Giant’s Causeway is made up of a type of volcanic rock called basalt. It is very dark in color, just a touch shy of black, and is relatively smooth to the touch. When the earth split, huge volumes of magma were generated in the Earth’s mantle and erupted into and onto the earth’s crust forming the start of the Giant’s Causeway.

However, there is one very, very important thing about the formation of the Giant’s Causeway which is the factor that draws in so many visitors. This is the fact that the majority of the basalt rocks formed into hexagon or “almost” hexagon shaped formations. This happened because of the way the magma contracted and shrunk during the cooling process. All of this quick contracting and shrinking caused the magma to form perpendicularly, which geologists call columnar jointing. It is called this because all of the pieces fit right into together, much like the puzzle pieces fit together. These pieces vary in length, width, and height but the majority of the 40,000 basalt column “pieces” are 50cm long by 50cm wide by 15cm in high.

How did I feel when I saw it?

At first I was not that impressed because we were so far away, but soon I found out that the really intriguing beauty and awe comes from getting up close and personal to inspect the pieces. I think the coolest thing about hiking closer and closer to the Causeway was being able to begin to make out the columns as well as begin to see exactly how the basalt pieces fit together perfectly. It was also really cool to see the pools of water and sea creatures that were stuck to the basalt rocks as I journeyed further out onto the causeway.

I think this may have been my favorite stop on the trip. When it was time to go to the next spot I just wanted to stay and take photos! My group said they would pick me up and carry me away to the next site if they had to!

Where does it live?

The Giant’s Causeway is located on the very, very edge of the coastline in Bushmills, Country Antrim which is in Northern Ireland. One fun fact is that Northern Ireland is actually considered to be a part of the United Kingdom and not the country of Ireland, which is unlike the rest of Ireland. So on this trip even though I was still in Ireland I was technically in the United Kingdom.

How does it use its environment to survive?

It doesn’t necessarily use its environment to survive, rather the environment is causing the Giant’s Causeway to become eroded and over many, many, many years will eventually become warped and rubbed away thanks to the wind and rain and constant push and pull of the tide, which comes with being located in a marine environment.

What can harm this creature? Are we worried about it?

Yes, believe it or not we actually are worried about the Giant’s Causeway! Recently the Giant’s Causeway was declared as an UNESCO- World Heritage site and because of this people from all around the world come to view the intriguing splendor that it offers. The fact that so many people come and explore, hike, sit on this bizarre outcropping of rock is causing it to sink into the ground, just ever so slightly, and is also speeding up the erosion process.

My geology professors estimated that in about 10-15 years people will not be able to go out onto the actual causeway to sit and take pictures because UNESCO will have banned it in order to protect and preserve the causeway. Also with global climate change, scientists are beginning to worry that some of the causeway will be completely submerged in water all year round and because of the extended exposure to water will speed up the erosion process.

Andrea and I on the Causeway

Andrea and I on the Causeway

Close of up view of the columns

Close up view of the columns

Safety man on the colums

Safety man on the Causeway

They make good chairs, too!

They make good chairs, too!

Towards Scotland

Towards Scotland!

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