CHARLES DARWIN'S GREATEST EXPERIMENT
Charles Darwin was a gifted naturalist, a prolific writer and author, and one of the most important figures in the history of science. Born on February 12th 1809 in Shropshire, England, he was grandson to Erasmus Darwin - a famous natural philosopher, and Josiah Wedgwood - known for the industrialization of the production of pottery.
Darwin's scientific career began in 1825 as an apprentice doctor moved home to Scotland in order to study medicine at Edinburgh University. However, Darwin became disinterested in this subject and neglected his medical studies to spend time on his latest fascination for taxonomy - the classification of living things, and marine invertebrates In 1828, Darwin was sent to Cambridge with the intention of studying for a Bachelor of Arts, but once again his focus became diverted, concentrating his energies on beetle collecting, botany, geology and natural philosophy.
Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, was probably the main inspiration for his later ideas. Of these, the most important and best known, was his theory of evolution by natural selection. Although, evolutionary ideas had been common since at least the 18th century, Darwin was able to describe how the process of natural selection (Darwins theory of how which evolution occurred) by presenting overwhelming arguments and clear evidence of his position. This path of scientific discovery was backed by extensive 'evolution-based' experimentation.
Most of his experimental work on plants, worms, and barnacles has been well documented - including being published by the great man himself. However, there is one little-known experiment that Darwin undertook, The results of which could be truly ground breaking with regards to securing a future of our planet. It is also an experiment that surprisingly is still ongoing. The subject of this study was terraforming - something that would perhaps be more fitting in a science fiction movie! The story of Charles Darwins greatest experiment is as follows:
Charles Darwin and Ascension Island
It was previously in possession of the East India Company while Napoleon I was in exile there, but after his death in 1821, control of St Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. It was now an important and strategic British naval station
Darwin wasn't expecting much upon his arrival at St Helena, and even less for his next port of call.
'We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder.' Joked one of residents of St Helena before his departure.
‘...about six hundred sheep, many goats, a few cows and horses, and large numbers of guinea fowl imported from the Cape Verde islands, as well as rats, mice and land crabs...’
Darwin also noted the care taken to sustain the houses, gardens and fields with good drinking water. These natural springs were carefully managed...
'...so that a single drop of water may not be lost: indeed the whole island may be compared to a huge ship kept in first-rate order.'
In commenting on this, he noted René Primevère Lesson's remark
‘...that the English nation alone would have thought of making the island of Ascension a productive spot; any other people would have held it as a mere fortress in the ocean...’
In 1843, botanist, explorer, and future Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Joseph Hooker also visited the island. Then four years later, Hooker - with a great deal of persuasion and encouragement from Darwin - advised the Royal Navy that with the help of Kew Gardens, they should institute a long term plan of shipping trees to Ascension. Darwin's idea was fantastically simple, and a true insight into his genius. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The 'cinder island' wasn't just to be an enormous, government funded garden. Charles Darwin, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy had conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem!
Professor David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle, is retraced Darwin's travels for a book he was writing. He tells of a letter that was awaiting Darwin on his arrival at Ascension Island from his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow.
'Darwin's voyage of discovery had already caused a huge sensation in London.' explains Catling. 'In this letter Henslow had assured him that on his return, he would take his place among the great men of science.'
How right he would be. Yet could Darwin's secret garden have more far-reaching consequences?
Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island's strange ecosystem. He had the following to say during a recent interview with the BBC.
'I remember thinking, this is really weird.There were all kinds of plants that don't belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened.'
Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of co-evolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.
Dr Wilkinson exclaimed: 'This is really exciting! What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error.'
Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it 'find its own way'. However, to date, scientists have been deaf to the parable of Ascension Island.
'It's a terrible waste that no-one is studying it.' remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.
It seems that Ascension Island's secret will be safe for years to come or - with current concerns of climate change, de-forestation and recent evidence of increased extinctions - will Darwin's greatest experiment help to save us all?
For related articles click onto:
American Revolution: The truth behind the Boston Tea Party
Ancient Olympic Games
ATHENS: How to get to Athens City from Athens International Airport
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Tower of the Winds
BATH: Roman Baths
Charles Darwin's Greatest Experiment
Charles Darwins Legacy - 200 years on
Cowboys and Lawmen: Who was Bass Reeves?
Cowboys and Lawmen: Who was Wyatt Earp?
Darwin's Theory of Evolution
ENGLAND: Knole House - the Ghosts!
GREEK HISTORY: Who was Archimedes?
GREEK HISTORY: Who was Archimedes?
Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
Hever Castle, Viscount Astor and the Worlds Greatest Pleasure Garden
How Big is Big Ben?
How do you get Acid Rain?
HMS Victory - Worlds Greatest Warship
LIVING DINOSAURS - The Coelacanth
ROMAN ENGLAND: Who was Gnaeus Julius Agricola?
LONDON: Big Ben
LONDON: Buckingham Palace
LONDON: Cleopatra's Needle
LONDON: The Eye of London
LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: The Houses of Parliament
LONDON: The Tower of London
LONDON: Tower Bridge
Knole House and the Ghost with no Name
Lost Tulips of the Dutch Golden Age- Semper Augustus and Viceroy
MARRAKECH: The Saadian Tombs
Majorelle Gardens Morocco
Plants and Trees of the Garden of Eden
Poinsettia History and Tradition Story
RHS Wisley Gardens - A Photographic Walk Through
RMS TITANIC - Father Frank Brownes Photographs
Roman England: The Kings Bath
Rome: Gladiator Graveyard Discovered!
Rome: How to get to Villa Adriana from Rome
Rome: How to get to Villa D'Este from Rome
Rome: How to make Roman bread - Panis
Rome: Opening Times for Villa D'Este
Rome: Photographs of and around the Colosseum at Night
Rome: The Pantheon
Rome: Villa Adriana - Tivoli
Rome: What did Gladiators Eat?
Rome: What did the Romans Eat?
ROME: What was a Gladiator?
Rome: Who were the Ancient Gladiators?
Sheds - A great security feature for your home
Sissinghurst Gardens - a secret history
Stories, Myths, Legends and the Folklore of Hellebores
The Assassination of Lincoln
The Evolution and Devolution of Man - Finally explained
The Coelacanth - a living, breathing fossil
The Flying Dutchman
The Fountain of Youth
The Garden of Eden
The History of the Christmas Tree
The History of Mistletoe Tradition
The History of the Jack O'Lantern Hallowen Pumpkin
The History of the Olympic Games
The History of the Primula Auricula
The History of Rhubarb
The History of the Pineapple
The Legend of the Jack O'Lantern Tradition
The Olympic Games
The Olympic Medal
The Mary Celeste
The Sinking of the Titanic
The Story and History of Common Box
The Truth about the Alamo
Tulip History and Popular Varieties
VALENCIA: The Lonja de la Seda
VALENCIA: The Turia River
Was Abraham Lincoln a Vampire?
What has the Christmas cactus got to do with Christmas?
What is Cork Made of?
Where to find the Fountain of Youth?
Where is the Location of the Garden of Eden
Where is the Garden of Eden?
Where is Sissinghurst?
What is the Flying Dutchman?
What is the Fountain of Youth?
What is Acid Rain?
What is Stonehenge?
Who was Charles Darwin
William Astor, Hever Castle and the Worlds Greatest Pleasure Garden
Where was Abraham Lincoln from?
Who was Abraham Lincoln?
Who was Archimedes?
Who was Guy Fawkes?
Who was Julius Caesar?
Who was King Canute?
Who was Queen Victoria?
William and Kate - First Baby
Based on articles by http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11137903 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darwin
Photo care of http://eudaimonist.tumblr.com/post/3258639463/happy-202nd-birthday-to-charles-darwin-while-the and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Beagle_by_Conrad_Martens.jpg and http://www.bweaver.nom.sh/darwin/darwinai.htm and http://www.gare.co.uk/ascension/ and http://www.flickriver.com/places/Saint+Helena/Ascension/