Monday, January 26, 2009

Ascención Island - The Middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

A rule in aviation is that aircraft with only two engines (like our 757) can never be more than 3 hours from a landing strip. So instead of flying straight across from Cape Town to Rio, we needed to fly far north to a tiny speck of land known as Ascención Island, just 65 miles west of the submerged Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This was quite a treat for our group (maybe I'm stretching the truth here). But I was definitely happy to stop at this outpost in the middle of the sea - it was vivid with volcanic features and we received permission to do a flying tour of the island before we stopped to refuel at a runway - reserved as one of the emergency landing strips for the space shuttle. Here is a photo tour of a place very few people ever see.

Here's the approach to Ascención Island after a six hour flight from Cape Town. Our trip is making the transition from Africa to South America!

And a view of most of the island as our captain positions the jet for great views. Air traffic control was more than happy to let us fly where we wanted.

Although it is under a cloud, you can make out the runway in this pic just to the left of the obvious cinder cone. A photo of this cone from ground level is included below.

The island is over 2 miles tall but three-fourths of it is under the sea. The oldest flows are one million years old and there have not been any historic flows at all (since AD 1501). But geologists note that eruptions have probably occurred since AD 1000. You can easily see some excellent lava features on one of the younger flows in this shot.

Surprisingly, there are a number of trachyte and rhyolite flows on the northeast side of the island. Ascención is not directly on top of the mid-ocean ridge - it's about 65 miles west of that. It has erupted on a the Acención Fracture Zone and is part of a hot spot.

Here's the view of the tarmac as I exited the jet.

Our Explorer jet on Acención Island.

The NASA tracking station on top of a relatively recent cinder cone.

One for the records!

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