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Giant’s Causeway was formed in a matter of DAYS – and no more than thousands of years, research shows

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Every year, millions of tourists flock to Northern Ireland to visit the Giant’s Causeway – an unusual formation of about 40,000 hexagonal stone columns that descend gently into the sea.

Theories about the formation of the stones range from the fact that they were built by a mythical giant Finn McCool to more scientific explanations.

Now Dr. Mike Simms, curator of natural sciences at National Museums NI, has put forward the first new theory since 1940.

dr. Simms investigated why the extraordinary geological features can only be found at sea level.

On the occasion of UNESCO’s International Day of Geodiversity today, he explained why he thinks they were caused by an event that lasted only a few days – and not thousands of years as previously thought.

Every year millions of tourists flock to Northern Ireland to visit the Giant’s Causeway – an unusual formation of 40,000 stone columns that descend gently into the sea

The scientific explanation for its formation, widely accepted for decades, is that a river valley was filled with lava that settled deeper than usual.  Pictured: Geological map of the surveyed area

The scientific explanation for its formation, widely accepted for decades, is that a river valley was filled with lava that settled deeper than usual. Pictured: Geological map of the surveyed area

What is Giant’s Causeway?

Giant’s Causeway covers about four miles off the coast of Northern Ireland.

About 40,000 stone pillars make up the tourist attraction, and these pillars usually have five to seven sides.

According to Britannicathe site was formed 50 to 60 million years ago.

It was formed during the Paleogene period and was the result of lava crawling towards the coast but cooling after contact with the sea.

Giant’s Causeway was first recorded in 1693, and it was a point of intrigue for geologists.

It is managed by the National Trust, a British organization responsible for preserving natural wonders.

In 1986 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the protected area is home to about 50 species of birds and more than 200 plant species.

Giant’s Causeway covers about four miles off the coast of Northern Ireland.

About 40,000 stone pillars make up the tourist attraction, and these pillars usually have five to seven sides.

The site was formed 50 to 60 million years ago during the Paleogene period and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

The scientific explanation for its formation, widely accepted for decades, is that a river valley was filled with lava that settled deeper than usual.

As the thick layer of lava cooled and solidified, it formed regular columns.

dr. However, Simms has put forward the idea that if this lava-filled cavity were a valley, it would have cut through ancient layers of lava below.

He has identified layers of ancient lava on either side of the Giant’s Causeway that drain inward where older layers have not been eroded away.

Dr Simms said: ‘An analogy that I find helpful when explaining that this is pie.

‘Eeroding a river valley is like cutting through a cake layer to expose layers below the surface.

“In my interpretation, what we’re actually seeing are layers of older rock sloping down to the Causeway – more like a poorly baked cake that has sunk in the middle.

“I believe the ground subsided as lava came up and erupted on the surface.

‘The lava filled the depression and created the conditions for the formation of the columns.

dr.  Mike Simms, curator of science at National Museums NI, has put forward the first new theory since 1940

dr. Mike Simms, curator of science at National Museums NI, has put forward the first new theory since 1940

dr.  Simms has put forward the idea that if this lava-filled cavity were a valley, it would pass through ancient lava layers beneath

He has identified layers of ancient lava on either side of the Giant's Causeway that slope inward where older layers have not been eroded away

dr. Simms has put forward the idea that if this lava-filled cavity were a valley, it would have cut through ancient layers of lava below. He has identified layers of ancient lava on either side of the Giant’s Causeway that slope inward where older layers have not been eroded away

“This event probably lasted only a few days instead of the many thousands of years it would take for erosion to create a river valley.”

dr. Simms explained that he first started thinking about the theory while leading a World Heritage field trip in 2012.

“I am particularly indebted to another geologist, a young Brazilian man who was on a field trip I led in 2012,” he said.

He wondered how long it would take to erode the supposed river valley, and it was this that opened my eyes to the evidence before me.

‘I had visited the Giant’s Causeway many times before and until then I had just accepted the previous theory.

dr.  Simms explained that he first started thinking about the theory while leading a World Heritage field trip in 2012.

dr. Simms explained that he first started thinking about the theory while leading a World Heritage field trip in 2012.

The Giant's Causeway is Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage Site and is managed by the National Trust, which has recognized Dr Simms' theory

The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only Unesco World Heritage Site and is managed by the National Trust, which has recognized Dr Simms’ theory

“It shows that even at world-famous landmarks like these, new discoveries can be made through simple observation.”

The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only Unesco World Heritage Site and is managed by the National Trust, which has recognized Dr Simms’ theory.

Max Bryant, general manager at Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede, said there can always be new possibilities and perspectives just waiting to be explored.

“It shows how amazing, magnificent and mysterious is a geological formation that we have here in Northern Ireland to share with the world,” he said.

Kathryn Thomson, chief executive of National Museums NI, said she is proud to support Dr Simms’ findings.

“I love that he showed our team’s expertise and how important museums are,” she said.

“Yes, we provide space for people to discover and learn, but our teams also make meaningful contributions elsewhere.

‘As a knowledge organisation, our employees are in a unique position to present research and ideas.

“For example, by using our vast natural science collections, we can support new discoveries and promote responsible and ethical behavior when it comes to our natural world.”

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