THE BLOG

What's In a Stone? Curling a Volcano Into the Winter Olympics

17/02/2014 22:36 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

I will keep this quite short, but I am actually quite excited! It's the Winter Olympics, the downhill, bobsleigh, ice hockey and ski jumping! All very hard-core stuff. But I am sat here watching, of all things, the Olympic curling. Why, might you ask am I fascinated about the curling, a sort of bowls on ice? Well as usual with me it boils down to something rocky and where possible volcanic. The whole of curling worldwide shares one simple yet geologically significant secret. That secret is held in the smoothed blue/grey stones that are pushed down the ice, known as the 'curling stones'.

Around about 60million years ago the edges of the British Isles were held in a volcanic struggle with what was to become the USA, Canada and Greenland. A giant rift was developing which was slowly starting to separate Europe from the American plates, in one of the Earth's classic plate tectonic battles.

As the giant slabs of rock started to separate, the crust thinned and hot material from deep in the earth started to pop up as volcanoes along the rifted tear. The isles of Skye, Rum, Mull and Arran along the Scottish coast are examples of some of these old volcanoes that were erupting when we slowly said goodbye to the American continent. But how does curling relate to this epic geological tale?

The answer lay on a small island just south of Isle Arran known as Ailsa Craig, where most of the curling stones are quarried from. A granite quarry from a small circular shaped outcrop on this small island provides the whole world with curling stones curling stones.

Ailsa Craig was too part of this volcanic story of the separation of two continents. The island is the site of a volcanic plug, a sort of tube of magma that rose up through the crust to feed the volcanoes, which was frozen in time in this small part of Scotland. The granite that crystallised from this plug, produced a fine igneous rock with a texture that carved well, and contained a mix of crystals that gave it a wonderful blue sheen colour. The curling stone was born.

Volcanic rocks in sport may not be too common, but it could be on the rise? I myself now play field hockey with a stick that contains 15% basalt (a fine grained volcanic rock), and people have started skiing down the scree slopes on active volcanoes. So as you watch the teams franticly brushing the ice to guide their stones into the scoring zone, have a small smile at the fact that they are curling a volcano in the winter Olympics.

Dougal is currently appearing as a presenter on the CBBC show Fierce Earth.