-The Enigma At Staffa
My first physical encounter with the Isle of Staffa was in the summer of
1970. 1 was holidaying in Oban (Scotland) with my parents and I remember
it well because it was the best fortnight's holiday weather I have ever had
in Britain: wall-to-wall sunshine and baking hot. It was far too hot for
my dad, who had a heart condition and couldn't really take the heat.
We decided one day to take a boat trip around the Island of Mull to the Isle
of Iona, which is the place where, in 563AD, Columba arrived from Ireland
to found a monastery and begin the spread of his version of Christianity
to mainland Britain. The little Isle of Staffa is a few miles north of lona,
and they both lie to the west of the Isle of Mull. Though the boat trip we
were on didn't land or drop off at Staffa, we passed very close to it and
got a first class view; much like the picture above. The sea was like a millpond
and my camera worked overtime.
I was thrilled. It wasn't that I was musical and knew Mendelssohn's 'Fingal's
Cave Overture', nor was it that I was into the Celtic legend of giant Fionn
MacCombal (Finn MacCoul) who began to construct a causeway across the sea,
the better to attack his hated rival Fingal, who had built himself a stronghold
of columnar basalt, just like the causeway, on the Isle of Staffa;
no, it was because I was a Geography teacher who specialized in physical
geography ('geomorphology', it's called, for the initiated),
and Staffa is a key place in the story of the construction of the Earth's
surface. Thereafter I used my pictures to teach on the topic and only regretted
not having been able to land and inspect at close quarters.
As we sailed by, there it was in all of its glory. The hexagonal columns
of the dark, basalt rock, looking like a stack of unsharpened pencils, were
underlying the cinder-like formation on top. Basalt is a rock which spews
out from under the surface in a volcanic eruption. It is a very runny, liquid
sort of rock, unlike the sticky lava which makes up what we normally think
of as a volcano. Basalt flows much more freely and does not form a cone but
rather covers a huge area in a vast, thick sheet of rock. The upper
surface cools rapidly, being in direct contact with the air,
but underneath, where the molten rock is not exposed to the atmosphere,
it cools slowly and forms these amazing columns. This lava sheet minimally
covered an area from Northern Ireland (Antrim) to western Scotland,
with Giant's Causeway and Fingal's Cave probably on either end.
So, from then on, I was able to teach the given explanation of lava plateaux
to my pupils, using my pictures of Staffa. The lava (actually it is correctly
called 'magma' because it is lava + gases) flowed rapidly over the surface,
cooling quickly on top but very slowly underneath, and Staffa shows this
beautifully in classic formation. Geologists tell us that it was of
Recent geological age, some 50,000,000 years or so ago in the early Tertiary
period. Though this was marked as an age of mountain building elsewhere in
Europe where the Alps were thrust up, north-west Britain was only on the
fringes of this activity, which, of course, though extremely rapid over
geological timetaking a few million years to accomplishwas rather
slow by other more conventional timing methods. The overview is of
ages of sereneness following a period of volcanic activity.
Then, this May, I visited Staffa again and was able to land: the sea being
like a millpond once more. The mooring point was behind the stump on the
right (east side) of the general picture over. There we saw some amazing
sights with columnar basalts bending and twisting at all angles (pictures
a, b, c and d). Some were even lying horizontally yet were butting up against
the normal vertical columns (d). They were not snapped or shattered so had
obviously formed this way before they hardened off into solid rock.
They were coming at all sorts of angles. We know they form at right-angles
to the surface against which they cool and that this can produce small, local
oddities. But what kind of cool, twisted surface did these columns cool against?
Just what has been going on?
Clearly there was an out-pouring of lava on a vast scale, however it was
accompanied by massive movements in the rocks to the east. These lavas pour
out of fissures, not from central vents like 'normal' volcanoes. While they
were in a plastic condition the surface at the east end was twisted and bent,
faulted and fractured and this did not happen over a period of millions of
years. The rocks don't take that long to cool and form their columns. The
time-scale is much more like days, weeks or months but definitely not
a thousand years let alone several million!
Thus the Earth's crust here was being tortured and split apart, and this
was accompanied by forces which folded and fractured it. To the east of Staffa
is the Isle of Mull which has 3,000ft of layer upon layer of different lavas.
This stump at Staffa simply gives us a glimpse of what was happeningbut
what a glimpse it is. These were not slow processes operating gently over
vast eons, they were catastrophic forces working over very short periods
of time. So what caused it?
My excitement knew no bounds as I realized I was looking at either evidence
of the Flood of Noah's day or the effects of the post-Flood catastrophe,
some 104 years later, which saw the continents divide, some mountain chains
being thrown up, and the arrival of the Ice Age, at the Babel incident in
Peleg's time (Genesis 10:25) when Nimrod ruled the world and led people into
sin. My own reflections on the problem would lead me to favour the latter
scenario rather than the former. I believe it occurred around 1760AM
(Anno Mundi, after Creation) or approximately 2244BC.
No matter, the point is that the rock formations on that stump at the eastern
end of the Isle of Staffa present a geological enigma for the standard
explanation of events and provide a most profound statement of
the truth that the world was definitely not fashioned by slow processes acting
over countless millennia but rather by swift catastrophes as stated in the
Bible. We were only there for one hour but I came away with far more than
I could ever have hoped or dreamed.
Graham A. Fisher
Basalt columns at Fingal's Cave
a: The columns are folded
Basalt columns at Fingal's Cave
b: The columns piled upwards from a saucer shape
c: Columns stacked like driftwood after a storm
d: Columns lying horizontally in the middle ground but vertically in
the foreground. (The fault line between them has been eroded by the sea
originally forming a cave, then an arch, stack and now stump.)