Carbonates and Evaporites

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 92–101 | Cite as

Eolianites and Eustasy: Early concepts on Darwin’s voyage of HMS Beagle

  • Rhodes W. Fairbridge


“Eolianite” and “Eustasy” are both 20th century terms and even in their most rudimentary beginnings were not alluded to in most early 19th century treatises of geology. Darwin saw bechrock for the first time in 1832 when HMSBeagle stopped at Recife (Pernambuco) in Brazil, then saw raised shore terraces in Patagnia and Chile, followed by coral atolls in mid-Pacific, and examined eolianites on Ascension, S.W. Australia, South Africa and on St. Helena, during theBeagle’s extended voyage (1831–1836).

The subsidence theory of atolls, based on studies of Capt. Fitzroy’s navy charts, was formulated already before reaching Recife, and the crustal uplift in Patagonia offered a perfectly logical contrast to Pacific subsidence that eventually led to the concept of “tectonoeustasy”. Although a decade or so before Charpentier, Agassiz and Geikie, the Ice-Age glaciation must have been early implanted in Darwin’s mind, for he also reasoned on the assumption of its hydrologic implications, now known as “glacio-eustasy”.

Darwin repeatedly observed lime-cemented sandstones (later to be called “eolian calcarenites” by Grabau and “eolianites” by Sayles) in coastal settings. Their steep dips and bedding orientation suggested wind-borne (“aeolian”) transport from seaward, from a continental or insular shelf, now inundated by what — he reasoned — was a rise of sea levels or sinking of the land. Darwin’s observations of eolianites at King George’s Sound in southwestern Australia in the last year of the voyage of theBeagle (March 1836) may perhaps have been the final “crucial experiment” that convinced him of the fundamental concept of the worldwide nature of eustasy.


Pleistocene Atoll Calcarenite Aeolian Desert Journal ofSedimentary Petrology 
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© Springer 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rhodes W. Fairbridge
    • 1
  1. 1.Columbia University and NATO-Goddard Institute for Space StudiesNew York

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