Island Life/VI

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Island Life by Alfred Russel Wallace
Chapter VI.

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CHAPTER VI

GEOGRAPHICAL AND GEOLOGICAL CHANGES: THE PERMANENCE OF CONTINENTS

Changes of Land, and Sea, their Nature and Extent—Shore-deposits and Stratified Rocks—The Movements of Continents—Supposed Oceanic Formations; the Origin of Chalk—Fresh-water and Shore-deposits as proving the Permanence of Continents—Oceanic Islands as indications of the Permanence of Continents and Oceans—General Stability of Continents with constant Change of Form—Effect of Continental Changes on the Distribution of Animals—Changed Distribution proved by the Extinct Animals of Different Epochs—Summary of Evidence for the general Permanence of Continents and Oceans.

The changes of land and sea which have occurred in particular cases will be described when we discuss the origin and relations of the faunas of the different classes of islands. We have here only to consider the general character and extent of such changes, and to correct some erroneous ideas which are prevalent on the subject.

Changes of Land and Sea, their Nature and Extent.—It is a very common belief that geological evidence proves a complete change of land and sea to have taken place over and over again. Every foot of dry land has undoubtedly, at one time or other, formed part of a sea-bottom, and we can hardly exclude the surfaces occupied by volcanic and fresh-water deposits, since, in many cases, if not in all, these rest upon a substratum of marine formations. At first sight, therefore, it seems a necessary inference that when the present continents were under water there must [ 84 ] have been other continents situated where we now find the oceans, from which the sediments came to form the various deposits we now see. This view was held by so acute and learned a geologist as Sir Charles Lyell, who says:—"Continents, therefore, although permanent for whole geological epochs, shift their positions entirely in the course of ages."[16] Mr. T. Mellard Reade, late President of the Geological Society of Liverpool, so recently as 1878, says:—"While believing that the ocean-depths are of enormous age, it is impossible to resist other evidences that they have once been land. The very continuity of animal and vegetable life on the globe points to it. The molluscous fauna of the eastern coast of North America is very similar to that of Europe, and this could not have happened without littoral continuity, yet there are depths of 1,500 fathoms between these continents."[17] It is certainly strange that a geologist should not remember the recent and long-continued warm climates of the Arctic regions, and see that a connection of Northern Europe by Iceland with Greenland and Labrador over a sea far less than a thousand fathoms deep would furnish the "littoral continuity" required. Again, in the same pamphlet Mr. Reade says:—"It can be mathematically demonstrated that the whole, or nearly the whole, of the sea-bottom has been at one time or other dry land. If it were not so, and the oscillations, of the level of the land with respect to the sea were confined within limits near the present continents, the results would have been a gradual diminution instead of development of the calcareous rocks. To state the case in common language, the calcareous portion of the rocks would have been washed out during the mutations, the destruction and redeposit of the continental rocks, and eventually deposited in the depths of the immutable sea far from land. Immense beds of limestone would now exist at the bottom of the ocean, while the land would be composed of sandstones and argillaceous shales. The evidence of chemistry thus confirms the inductions drawn from the distribution of animal life upon the globe."

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So far from this being a "mathematical demonstration," it appears to me to be a complete misinterpretation of the facts. Animals did not create the lime which they secrete from the sea-water, and therefore we have every reason to believe that the inorganic sources which originally supplied it still keep up that supply, though perhaps in diminished quantity. Again, the great lime-secreters—corals—work in water of moderate depth, that is, near land, while there is no proof whatever that there is any considerable accumulation of limestone at the bottom of the deep ocean. On the contrary, the fact ascertained by the Challenger, that beyond a certain depth the "calcareous" ooze ceases, and is replaced by red and grey clays, although the calcareous organisms still abound in the surface waters of the ocean, shows that the lime is dissolved again by the excess of carbonic acid usually found at great depths, and its accumulation thus prevented. As to the increase of limestones in recent as compared with older formations, it may be readily explained by two considerations: in the first place, the growth and development of the land in longer and more complex shore lines and the increase of sedimentary over volcanic formations may have offered more stations favourable to the growth of coral; while the solubility of limestone in rain-water renders the destruction of such rocks more rapid than that of sandstones and shales, and would thus, by supplying more calcareous matter in solution for secretion by limestone-forming organisms, lead to their comparative abundance in later as compared with earlier formations.

However weak we may consider the above-quoted arguments against the permanence of oceans, the fact that these arguments are so confidently and authoritatively put forward, renders it advisable to show how many and what weighty considerations can be adduced to justify the opposite belief, which is now rapidly gaining ground among students of earth-history.

Shore Deposits and Stratified Rocks.—If we go round the shores of any of our continents we shall almost always find a considerable belt of shallow water, meaning thereby water from 100 to 150 fathoms deep. The distance from the [ 86 ] coast line at which such depths are reached is seldom less than twenty miles, and is very frequently more than a hundred, while in some cases such shallow seas extend several hundred miles from existing continents. The great depth of a thousand fathoms is often reached at thirty miles from shore, but more frequently at about sixty or a hundred miles. Round the entire African coast for example, this depth is reached at distances varying from forty to a hundred and fifty miles (except in the Red Sea and the Straits of Mozambique), the average being about eighty miles.

Now the numerous specimens of sea-bottoms collected during the voyage of the Challenger show that true shore-deposits—that is, materials denuded from the land and carried down as sediment by rivers—are almost always confined within a distance of 50 or 100 miles of the coast, the finest mud only being sometimes carried 150 or rarely 200 miles. As the sediment varies in coarseness and density it is evident that it will sink to the bottom at unequal distances, the bulk of it sinking comparatively near shore, while only the very finest and almost impalpable mud will be carried out to the furthest limits. Beyond these limits the only deposits (with few exceptions) are organic, consisting of the shells of minute calcareous or siliceous organisms with some decomposed pumice and volcanic dust which floats out to mid-ocean. It follows, therefore, that by far the larger part of all stratified deposits, especially those which consist of sand or pebbles or any visible fragments of rock, must have been formed within 50 or 100 miles of then existing continents, or if at a greater distance, in shallow inland seas receiving deposits from more sides than one, or in certain exceptional areas where deep ocean currents carry the débris of land to greater distances.[18]

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If we now examine the stratified rocks found in the very centre of all our great continents, we find them to consist of sandstones, limestones, conglomerates, or shales, which must, as we have seen, have been deposited within a comparatively short distance of a sea-shore. Sir Archibald Geikie says:—"Among the thickest masses of sedimentary rock—those of the ancient Palæozoic systems—no features recur more continually than the alternations of different sediments, and the recurrence of surfaces covered with well-preserved ripple-marks, trails and burrows of annelides, polygonal and irregular desiccation marks, like the cracks at the bottom of a sun-dried muddy pool. These phenomena unequivocally point to shallow and even littoral waters. They occur from bottom to top of formations, which reach a thickness of several thousand feet. They can be interpreted only in one way, viz., that the formations in question began to be laid down in shallow water; that during their formation the area of deposit gradually subsided for thousands of feet; yet that the rate of accumulation of sediment kept pace on the whole with this depression; and hence that the original shallow-water character of the deposits remained, even after the original sea-bottom had been buried under a vast mass of sedimentary matter." He goes on to say, that this general statement applies to the more recent as well as to the more ancient formations, and concludes—"In short, the more attentively the stratified rocks of the earth are studied, the more striking becomes the absence of any formations among them, which can legitimately be considered those of a deep sea. They have all been deposited in comparatively shallow water."[19]

The arrangement and succession of the stratified rocks also indicate the mode and place of their formation. We find them stretching across the country in one general direction, in belts of no great width though often of immense length, just as we should expect in shore deposits; and they often thin out and change from coarse to fine in a definite manner, indicating the position of the adjacent land [ 88 ] from the débris of which they were originally formed. Again quoting Sir Archibald Geikie:—"The materials carried down to the sea would arrange themselves then as they do still, the coarser portions nearest the shore, the finer silt and mud furthest from it. From the earliest geological times the great area of deposit has been, as it still is, the marginal belt of sea-floor skirting the land. It is there that nature has always strewn the dust of continents to be."

The Movements of Continents.—As we find these stratified rocks of different periods spread over almost the whole surface of existing continents where not occupied by igneous or metamorphic rocks, it follows that at one period or another each part of the continent has been under the sea, but at the same time not far from the shore. Geologists now recognise two kinds of movements by which the deposits so formed have been elevated into dry land—in the one case the strata remain almost level and undisturbed, in the other they are contorted and crumpled, often to an enormous extent. The former often prevails in plains and plateaus, while the latter is almost always found in the great mountain ranges. We are thus led to picture the land of the globe as a flexible area in a state of slow but incessant change; the changes consisting of low undulations which creep over the surface so as to elevate and depress limited portions in succession without perceptibly affecting their nearly horizontal position; and also of intense lateral compression, supposed to be produced by partial subsidence along certain lines of weakness in the earth's crust, the effect of which is to crumple the strata and force up certain areas in great contorted masses, which, when carved out by subaërial denudation into peaks and valleys, constitute our great mountain systems.[20] In this [ 89 ] way every part of a continent may again and again have sunk beneath the sea, and yet as a whole may never have ceased to exist as a continent or a vast continental archipelago. And, as subsidence will always be accompanied by deposition, of sediments from the adjacent land, piles of marine strata many thousand feet thick may have been formed in a sea which was never very deep, by means of a slow depression either continuous or intermittent, or through alternate subsidences and elevations, each of moderate amount.

Supposed Oceanic Formations;—the Origin of Chalk.—There seems very good reason to believe that few, if any, of the rocks known to geologists correspond exactly to the deposits now forming at the bottom of our great oceans. The white oceanic mud, or Globigerina-ooze, found in all the great oceans at depths varying from 250 to nearly 3,000 fathoms, and almost constantly in depths under 2,000 fathoms, has, however, been supposed to be an exception, and to correspond exactly to our white and grey chalk. Hence some naturalists have maintained that there has probably been one continuous formation of chalk in the Atlantic from the Cretaceous epoch to the present day. This view has been adopted chiefly on account of the similarity of the minute organisms found to compose a considerable proportion of both deposits, more especially the pelagic Foraminifera, of which several species of Globigerina appear to be identical in the chalk and the modern Atlantic mud. Other extremely minute organisms whose nature is doubtful, called coccoliths and discoliths, are also found in both formations, while there is a considerable general resemblance between the higher forms of life. Sir Wyville Thomson tells us, that—"Sponges are abundant in both, and the recent chalk-mud has yielded a large number of examples of the group porifera vitrea, which find their nearest representatives among the Ventriculites of the white chalk. The echinoderm fauna of the deeper parts of [ 90 ] the Atlantic basin is very characteristic, and yields an assemblage of forms which represent in a remarkable degree the corresponding group in the white chalk. Species of the genus Cidaris are numerous; some remarkable flexible forms of the Diademidæ seem to approach Echinothuria."[21] Now, as some explanation of the origin of chalk had long been desired by geologists, it is not surprising that the amount of resemblance shown to exist between it and some kinds of oceanic mud should have been at once seized upon, and the conclusion arrived at that chalk is a deep-sea oceanic formation exactly analogous to that which has been shown to cover large areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans.

But there are several objections to this view which seem fatal to its acceptance. In the first place, no specimens of Globigerina-ooze from the deep ocean-bed yet examined agree even approximately with chalk in chemical composition, only containing from 44 to 79 per cent. of carbonate of lime, with from 5 to 11 per cent of silica, and from 8 to 33 per cent. of alumina and oxide of iron.[22] Chalk, on the other hand, contains usually from 94 to 99 per cent. of carbonate of lime, and a very minute quantity of alumina and silica. This large proportion of carbonate of lime implies some other source of this mineral, and it is probably to be found in the excessively fine mud produced by the decomposition and denudation of coral reefs. Mr. Dana, the geologist of the United States Exploring Expedition, found in the elevated coral reef of Oahu, one of the Sandwich Islands, a deposit closely resembling chalk in colour, texture, &c.; while in several growing reefs a similar formation of modern chalk undistinguishable from the ancient, was observed.[23] Sir Charles Lyell well remarks [ 91 ] that the pure calcareous mud produced by the decomposition of the shelly coverings of mollusca and zoophytes would be much lighter than argillaceous or arenaceous mud, and being thus transported to greater distances would be completely separated from all impurities.

Now the Globigerinæ have been shown by the Challenger explorations to abound in all moderately warm seas; living [ 92 ] both at the surface, at various depths in the water, and at the bottom. It was long thought that they were surface-dwellers only, and that their dead tests sank to the bottom, producing the Globigerina-ooze in those areas where other deposits were absent or scanty. But the examination of the whole of the dredgings and surface-gatherings of the Challenger by Mr. H. B. Brady has led him to a different conclusion; for he finds numerous forms at the bottom quite distinct from those which inhabit the surface, while, when the same species live both at surface and bottom, the latter are always larger and have thicker and stronger cell-walls. This view is also supported by the fact that in many stations not far from our own shores Globigerinæ are abundant in bottom dredgings, but are never found on the surface in the towing-nets.[24] These organisms then exist almost universally where the waters are pure and are not too cold, and they would naturally abound most where the diffusion of carbonate of lime both in suspension and solution afforded them an abundant supply of material for their shelly coverings. Dr. Wallich believes that they flourish best where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream bring organic matter from which they derive nutriment, since they are wholly wanting in the course of the Arctic current between Greenland and Labrador. Dr. Carpenter also assures us that they are rigorously limited to warm areas; but Mr. Brady says that a dwarf variety of Globigerina was found in the soundings of the North Polar Expedition in Lat. 83° 19′ N.

Now with regard to the depth at which our chalk was formed, we have evidence of several distinct kinds to show that it was not profoundly oceanic. Mr. J. Murray, in the report already referred to, says: "The Globigerina-oozes which we get in shallow water resemble the chalk much more than those in deeper water, say over 1,000 fathoms."[25] This is important and weighty evidence, and it is supported in a striking manner by the nature of the molluscan fauna of the chalk. Dr. Gwyn Jeffreys, one of our greatest [ 93 ] authorities on shells, who has himself dredged largely both in deep and shallow water and who has no theory to support, has carefully examined this question. Taking the whole series of genera which are found in the Chalk formation, seventy-one in number, he declared that they are all comparatively shallow-water forms, many living at depths not exceeding 40 to 50 fathoms, while some are confined to still shallower waters. Even more important is the fact that the genera especially characteristic of the deep Atlantic ooze—Leda, Verticordia, Neæra, and the Bulla family—are either very rare or entirely wanting in the ancient Cretaceous deposits.[26]

Let us now see how the various facts already adduced will enable us to explain the peculiar characteristics of the chalk formation. Sir Charles Lyell tells us that "pure chalk, of nearly uniform aspect and composition, is met with in a north-west and south-east direction, from the north of Ireland to the Crimea, a distance of about 1,500 geographical miles; and in an opposite direction it extends from the south of Sweden to the south of Bordeaux, a distance of about 840 geographical miles." This marks the extreme limits within which true chalk is found, though it is by no means continuous. It probably implies, however, the existence across Central Europe of a sea somewhat larger than the Mediterranean. It may have been much larger, because this pure chalk formation would only be formed at a considerable distance from land, or in areas where there was no other shore deposit. This sea was probably bounded on the north by the old Scandinavian highlands, extending to Northern Germany and North-western Russia, where Palæozoic and ancient Secondary rocks have a wide extension, though now partially concealed by late Tertiary deposits; while on the south it appears to have been limited by land extending through Austria, South Germany, and the south of France, as shown in the map of Central Europe during the Cretaceous period in Professor Heer's Primeval World of Switzerland, p. 175. To the north the sea may have had [ 94 ] an outlet to the Arctic Ocean between the Ural range and Finland. South of the Alps there was probably another sea, which may have communicated with the northern one just described, and there was also a narrow strait across Switzerland, north of the Alps, but, as might be expected, in this only marls, clays, sandstones, and limestones were deposited instead of true chalk. It is also a suggestive fact that both above and below the true chalk, in almost all the countries where it occurs, are extensive deposits of marls, clays, and even pure sands and sandstones, characterised by the same general types of fossil remains as the chalk itself. These beds imply the vicinity of land, and this is even more clearly proved by the occurrence, both in the Upper and Lower Cretaceous, of deposits containing the remains of land-plants in abundance, indicating a rich and varied flora.

Now all these facts are totally opposed to the idea of anything like oceanic conditions having prevailed in Europe during the Cretaceous period; but they are quite consistent with the existence of a great Mediterranean sea of considerable depth in its central portions, and occupying either at one or successive periods, the whole area of the Cretaceous formation. We may also note that the Maestricht beds in Belgium and the Faxoe chalk in Denmark are both highly coralline, the latter being, in fact, as completely composed of corals as a modern coral-reef; so that we have here a clear indication of the source whence the white calcareous mud was derived which forms the basis of chalk. If we suppose that during this period the comparatively shallow sea-bottom between Scandinavia and Greenland was elevated, forming a land connection between these countries, the result would be that a large portion of the Gulf Stream would be diverted into the inland European sea, and would bring with it that abundance of Globigerinæ, and other Foraminifera, which form such an important constituent of chalk. This sea was probably bordered with islands and coral-reefs, and if no very large rivers flowed into it we should have all the conditions for the production of the true chalk, as well as the other members of the Cretaceous formation. The products [ 95 ] of the denudation of its shores and islands would form the various sandstones, marls, and clays, which would be deposited almost wholly within a few miles of its coasts; while the great central sea, perhaps at no time more than a few thousand feet deep and often much less, would receive only the impalpable mud of the coral-reefs and the constantly falling tests of Foraminifera. These would imbed and preserve for us the numerous echinoderms, sponges, and mollusca, which lived upon the bottom, the fishes and turtles which swam in its waters, and sometimes the winged reptiles that flew overhead. The abundance of ammonites, and other cephalopods, in the chalk, is another indication that the water in which they lived was not very deep, since Dr. S. P. Woodward thinks that these organisms were limited to a depth of about thirty fathoms.

The best example of the modern formation of chalk is perhaps to be found on the coasts of sub-tropical North America, as described in the following passage:—

"The observations of Pourtales show that the steep banks of Bahama are covered with soft white lime mud. The lime-bottom, which consists almost entirely of Polythalamia, covers in greater depths the entire channel of Florida. This formation extends without interruption over the whole bed of the Gulf Stream in the Gulf of Mexico, and is continued along the Atlantic coast of America. The commonest genera met with in this deposit are Globigerina, Rotalia cultrata in large numbers, several Textilariæ, Marginulinæ, &c. Beside these, small free corals, Alcyonidæ, Ophiuræ, Mollusca, Crustacea, small fishes, &c., are found living in these depths. The whole sea-bottom appears to be covered with a vast deposit of white chalk still in formation."[27]

There is yet another consideration which seems to have been altogether overlooked by those who suppose that a deep and open island-studded ocean occupied the place of Europe in Cretaceous times. No fact is more certain than the considerable break, indicative of a great lapse of time, intervening between the Cretaceous and Tertiary [ 96 ] formations. A few deposits of intermediate age have indeed been found, but these have been generally allocated either with the Chalk or the Eocene, leaving the gap almost as pronounced as before. Now, what does this gap mean? It implies that when the deposition of the various Cretaceous beds of Europe came to an end they were raised above the sea-level and subject to extensive denudation, and that for a long but unknown period no extensive portion of what is now European land was below the sea-level. It was only when this period terminated that large areas in several parts of Europe became submerged and received the earliest Tertiary deposits known as Eocene. If, therefore, Europe at the close of the Cretaceous period was generally identical with what it is now, and perhaps even more extensive, it is absurd to suppose that it was all, or nearly all, under water during that period; or in fact, that any part of it was submerged, except those areas on which we actually find Cretaceous deposits, or where we have good reason to believe they have existed; and even these need not have been all under water at the same time.

The several considerations now adduced are, I think, sufficient to show that the view put forth by some naturalists (and which has met with a somewhat hasty acceptance by geologists) that our white chalk is an oceanic formation strictly comparable with that now forming at depths of a thousand fathoms and upwards in the centre of the Atlantic, gives a totally erroneous idea of the actual condition of Europe during that period. Instead of being a wide ocean, with a few scattered islands, comparable to some parts of the Pacific, it formed as truly a portion of the great northern continent as it does now, although the inland seas of that epoch may have been more extensive and more numerous than they are at the present day.[28]

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Fresh-water and Shore Deposits as Proving the Permanence of Continents.—The view here maintained, that all known marine deposits have been formed near the coasts of continents and islands, and that our actual continents have been in continuous existence under variously modified forms during the whole period of known geological history, is further supported by another and totally distinct series of facts. In almost every period of geology, and in all the continents which have been well examined, there are found lacustrine, estuarine, or shore deposits, containing the remains of land animals or plants, thus demonstrating the continuous existence of extensive land areas on or adjoining the sites of our present continents. Beginning with the Miocene, or Middle Tertiary period, we have such deposits with remains of land-animals, or plants, in Devonshire and Scotland, in France, Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, Vienna, Greece, North India, Central India, Burmah, North America, both east and west of the Rocky Mountains, Greenland, and other parts of the Arctic regions. In the older Eocene period similar formations are widely spread in the south of England, in France, and to an enormous extent on the central plateau of North America; while in the eastern states, from Maryland to Alabama, there are extensive marine deposits of the same age, which, from the abundance of fossil remains of a large cetacean (Zeuglodon), must have been formed in shallow gulfs or estuaries where these huge animals were stranded. Going back to the Cretaceous formation we have the same indications of persisting lands in the rich plant-beds of Aix-la-Chapelle, and a few other localities on the Continent, as well as in coniferous fruits from the Gault of Folkestone; while in North America cretaceous plant-beds occur in [ 98 ] New Jersey, Alabama, Kansas, the sources of the Missouri, the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, Alaska, California, and in Greenland and Spitzbergen; while birds and land reptiles are found in the Cretaceous deposits of Colorado and other districts near the centre of the Continent. Fresh-water deposits of this age are also found on the coast of Brazil. In the lower part of this formation we have the fresh-water Wealden deposits of England, extending into France, Hanover, and Westphalia. In the older Oolite or Jurassic formation we have abundant proofs of continental conditions in the fresh-water and "dirt"-beds of the Purbecks in the south of England, with plants, insects and mammals; the Bavarian lithographic stone, with fossil birds and insects; the earlier "forest marble" of Wiltshire, with ripple-marks, wood, and broken shells, indicative of an extensive beach; the Stonesfield slate, with plants, insects, and marsupials; and the Oolitic coal of Yorkshire and Sutherlandshire. Beds of the same age occur in the Rocky Mountains of North America, containing abundance of Dinosaurians and other reptiles, among which is the Atlantosaurus, the largest land-animal yet known to have existed on the earth. Professor O. C. Marsh describes it as having been between fifty and sixty feet long, and when standing erect at least thirty feet high![29] Such monsters could hardly have been developed except in an extensive land area. A small mammal, Dryolestes, has been discovered in the same deposits. A rich Jurassic flora has also been found in East Siberia and the Amur valley. The older Triassic deposits are very extensively developed in America, and both in the Connecticut valley and the Rocky Mountains show tracks or remains of land reptiles, amphibians and mammalia, while coalfields of the same age in Virginia and Carolina produce abundance of plants. Here too are found the ancient mammal, Microlestes, of Wurtemberg, with the ferns, conifers, and Labyrinthodonts of the Bunter Sandstone in Germany; while the beds of rock-salt in this formation, [ 99 ] both in England and in many parts of the Continent, could only have been formed in inland seas or lakes, and thus equally demonstrate continental conditions.

We now pass into the oldest or Palæozoic formations, but find no diminution in the proofs of continental conditions. The Permian formation has a rich flora often producing coal in England, France, Saxony, Thuringia, Silesia, and Eastern Russia. Coalfields of the same age occur in Ohio in North America. In the still more ancient Carboniferous formation we find the most remarkable proofs of the existence of our present land masses at that remote epoch, in the wonderful extension of coal beds in all the known continents. We find them in Ireland, England, and Scotland; in France, Spain, Belgium, Saxony, Prussia, Bohemia, Hungary, Sweden, Spitzbergen, Siberia, Russia, Greece, Turkey, and Persia; in many parts of continental India, extensively in China, and in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. In North America there are immense coal fields, in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, from Pennsylvania southward to Alabama, in Indiana and Illinois, in Missouri, and even so far west as Colorado; and there is also a true coal formation in South Brazil. This wonderfully wide distribution of coal, implying, as it does, a rich vegetation and extensive land areas, carries back the proof of the persistence and general identity of our continents to a period so remote that none of the higher animal types had probably been developed. But we can go even further back than this, to the preceding Devonian formation, which was almost certainly an inland deposit often containing remains of fresh-water shells, plants, and even insects; while Professor Ramsay believes that he has found "sun-cracks and rain-pittings" in the Longmynd beds of the still earlier Cambrian formation.[30] If now, in addition to the body of evidence here adduced, we take into consideration the fresh-water deposits that still remain to be discovered, and those extensive areas where they have been destroyed by denudation or remain deeply covered up by later marine or volcanic formations, we cannot but be struck by the abounding proofs of the permanence of the [ 100 ] great features of land and sea as they now exist; and we shall see how utterly gratuitous, and how entirely opposed to all the evidence at our command, are the hypothetical continents bridging over the deep oceans, by the help of which it is so often attempted to cut the Gordian knot presented by some anomalous fact in geographical distribution.

Oceanic Islands as Indications of the Permanence of Continents and Oceans.—Coming to the question from the other side, Mr. Darwin has adduced an argument of considerable weight in favour of the permanence of the great oceans. He says (Origin of Species, 6th Ed. p. 288): "Looking to existing oceans, which are thrice as extensive as the land, we see them studded with many islands; but hardly one truly oceanic island (with the exception of New Zealand, if this can be called a truly oceanic island) is as yet known to afford even a fragment of any Palæozoic or Secondary formation. Hence we may perhaps infer that during the Palæozoic and Secondary periods neither continents nor continental islands existed where our oceans now extend; for had they existed, Palæozoic and Secondary formations would in all probability have been accumulated from sediment derived from their wear and tear; and these would have been at least partially upheaved by the oscillations of level, which must have intervened during these enormously long periods. If then we may infer anything from these facts, we may infer that, where our oceans now extend, oceans have extended from the remotest period of which we have any record; and, on the other hand, that where continents now exist, large tracts of land have existed, subjected no doubt to great oscillations of level, since the Cambrian period." This argument standing by itself has not received the attention it deserves, but coming in support of the long series of facts of an altogether distinct nature, going to show the permanence of continents, the cumulative effect of the whole must, I think, be admitted to be irresistible.[31]

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General Stability of Continents with Constant Change of Form.—It will be observed that the very same evidence which has been adduced to prove the general stability and permanence of our continental areas also goes to prove that they have been subjected to wonderful and repeated changes in detail. Every square mile of their surface has been again and again under water, sometimes a few hundred feet deep, sometimes perhaps several thousands. Lakes and inland seas have been formed, have been filled up with sediment, and been subsequently raised into hills or even mountains. Arms of the sea have existed crossing the continents in various directions, and thus completely isolating the divided portions for varying intervals. Seas have been changed into deserts and deserts into seas. Volcanoes have grown into mountains, have been degraded and sunk beneath the ocean, have been covered with sedimentary deposits, and again raised up into mountain ranges; while other mountains have been formed by the [ 102 ] upraised coral reefs of inland seas. The mountains of one period have disappeared by denudation or subsidence, while the mountains of the succeeding period have been rising from beneath the waves. The valleys, the ravines, and the mountain peaks, have been carved out and filled up again; and all the vegetable forms which clothe the earth and furnish food for the various classes of animals have been completely changed again and again.

Effect of Continental Changes on the Distribution of Animals.—It is impossible to exaggerate, or even adequately to conceive, the effect of these endless mutations on the animal world. Slowly but surely the whole population of living things must have been driven backward and forward from east to west, or from north to south, from one side of a continent or a hemisphere to the other. Owing to the remarkable continuity of all the land masses, animals and plants must have often been compelled to migrate into other continents, where in the struggle for existence under new conditions many would succumb; while such as were able to survive would constitute those wide-spread groups whose distribution often puzzles us. Owing to the repeated isolation of portions of continents for long periods, special forms of life would have time to be developed, which, when again brought into competition with the fauna from which they had been separated, would cause fresh struggles of ever increasing complexity, and thus lead to the development and preservation of every weapon, every habit, and every instinct, which could in any way conduce to the safety and preservation of the several species.

Changed Distribution proved by the Extinct Animals of Different Epochs.—We thus find that, while the inorganic world has been in a state of continual though very gradual change, the species of the organic world have also been slowly changing in form and in the localities they inhabit; and the records of these changes and these migrations are everywhere to be found, in the actual distribution of the species no less than in the fossil remains which are preserved in the rocks. Everywhere the animals which have most recently become extinct resemble more or less closely those which now live in the same country; and where [ 103 ] there are exceptions to the rule, we can generally trace them to some changed conditions which have led to the extinction of certain types. But when we go a little further back, to the late or middle Tertiary deposits, we almost always find, along with forms which might have been the ancestors of some now living, others which are only now found in remote regions and often in distinct continents—clear indications of those extensive migrations which have ever been going on. Every large island contains in its animal inhabitants a record of the period when it was last separated from the adjacent continent, while some portions of existing continents still show by the comparative poverty and speciality of their animals that at no distant epoch they were cut off by arms of the sea and formed islands. If the geological record were more perfect, or even if we had as good a knowledge of that record in all parts of the world as we have in Europe and North America, we could arrive at much more accurate results than we are able to do with our present very imperfect knowledge of extinct forms of life; but even with our present scanty information we are able to throw much light upon the past history of our globe and its inhabitants, and can sketch out with confidence many of the changes they must have undergone.

Summary of Evidence for the General Permanence of Continents and Oceans.—As this question of the permanence of our continents or, rather, of the continental areas, lies at the root of all our inquiries into the past changes of the earth and its inhabitants, and as it is at present completely ignored by many writers, and even by naturalists of eminence, it will be well to summarise the various kinds of evidence which go to establish it.[32] We know as a fact [ 104 ] that all sedimentary deposits have been formed under water, but we also know that they were largely formed in lakes or inland seas, or near the coasts of continents or great islands, and that deposits uniform in character and more than 150 or 200 miles wide were rarely, if ever, formed at the same time. The further we go from the land the less rapidly deposition takes place, hence the great bulk of all the strata must have been formed near land. Some deposits are, it is true, continually forming in the midst of the great oceans, but these are chiefly organic and increase very slowly, and there is no proof that any part of the series of known geological formations exactly resembles them. Chalk, which is still believed to be such a deposit by many naturalists, has been shown, by its contained fossils, to be a comparatively shallow water formation—that is, one formed at a depth measured by hundreds rather than by thousands of fathoms. The nature of the formations composing all our continents also proves the continuity of those continents. Everywhere we find clearly marked shore and estuarine deposits, showing that every part of the existing land has in turn been on the sea-shore; and we also find in all periods lacustrine formations of considerable extent with remains of plants and land animals, proving the existence of continents or extensive lands, in which such lakes or estuaries could be formed. These lacustrine deposits can be traced back through every period, from the newer Tertiary to the Devonian and Cambrian, and in every continent which has been geologically explored; and thus complete the proof that our continents have been in existence under ever changing [ 105 ] forms throughout the whole of that enormous lapse of time.

On the side of the oceans we have also a great weight of evidence in favour of their permanence and stability. In addition to their enormous depths and great extent, and the circumstance that the deposits now forming in them are distinct from anything found upon the land-surface, we have the extraordinary fact that the countless islands scattered over their whole area (with one or two exceptions only and those comparatively near to continental areas) never contain any Palæozoic or Secondary rocks—that is, have not preserved any fragments of the supposed ancient continents, nor of the deposits which must have resulted from their denudation during the whole period of their existence! The supposed exceptions are New Zealand and the Seychelles Islands, both situated near to continents and not really oceanic, leaving almost the whole of the vast areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Southern oceans, without a solitary relic of the great islands or continents supposed to have sunk beneath their waves.


16 ^  Principles of Geology, 11th Ed., Vol. I., p. 258.

17 ^  On Limestone as an Index of Geological Time.

18 ^  In his Preliminary Report on Oceanic Deposit, Mr. Murray says:—"It has been found that the deposits taking place near continents and islands have received their chief characteristics from the presence of the debris of adjacent lands. In some cases these deposits extend to a distance of over 150 miles from the coast." (Proceedings of the Royal Society, Vol. XXIV. p. 519.)

"The materials in suspension appear to be almost entirely deposited within 200 miles of the land." (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1876-77, p. 253.)

19 ^  Geographical Evolution. (Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. 1879, p. 426.)

20 ^  Professor Dana was, I believe, the first to point out that the regions which, after long undergoing subsidence and accumulating vast piles of sedimentary deposit have been elevated into mountain ranges, thereby become stiff and unyielding, and that the next depression and subsequent upheaval will be situated on one or the other sides of it; and he has shown that, in North America, this is the case with all the mountains of the successive geological formations. Thus, depressions, and elevations of extreme slowness but often of vast amount, have occurred successively in restricted adjacent areas; and the effect has been to bring each portion in succession beneath the ocean but always bordered on one or both sides by the remainder of the continent, from the denudation of which the deposits are formed which, on the subsequent upheaval, become mountain ranges. (Manual of Geology, 2nd Ed., p. 751.)

21 ^  Nature, Vol. II., p. 297.

22 ^  Sir W. Thomson, Voyage of Challenger, Vol. II., p. 374.

23 ^  The following is the analysis of the chalk at Oahu:—

Carbonate of Lime 92·800 per cent.
Carbonate of Magnesia 2·385 ,,
Alumina 0·250 ,,
Oxide of Iron 0·543 ,,
Silica 0·750 ,,
Phosphoric Acid and Fluorine     2·113 ,,
Water and loss 1·148 ,,

This chalk consists simply of comminuted corals and shells of the reef. It has been examined microscopically and found to be destitute of the minute organisms abounding in the chalk of England. (Geology of the United States Exploring Expedition, p. 150.) Mr. Guppy also found chalk-like coral limestones containing 95 p.c. of carbonate of lime in the Solomon Islands.

The absence of Globigerinæ is a local phenomenon. They are quite absent in the Arafura Sea, and no Globigerina-ooze was found in any of the enclosed seas of the Pacific, but with these exceptions the Globigerinæ "are really found all over the bottom of the ocean." (Murray on Oceanic Deposits—Proceedings of Royal Society, Vol. XXIV., p. 523.)

The above analysis shows a far closer resemblance to chalk than that of the Globigerina-ooze of the Atlantic, four specimens of which given by Sir W. Thomson (Voyage of the Challenger Vol. II. Appendix, pp. 374-376, Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 12) from the mid-Atlantic, show the following proportions:—

Carbonate of Lime 43·93 to 79·17 per cent.
Carbonate of Magnesia 1·40 to 2·58 ,,
Alumina and Oxide of Iron     6·00 ? to 32·98 ,,
Silica 4·60 to 11·23 ,,

In addition to the above there is a quantity of insoluble residue consisting of small particles of sanidine, augite, hornblende, and magnetite, supposed to be the product of volcanic dust or ashes carried either in the air or by ocean currents. This volcanic matter amounts to from 4·60 to 8·33 per cent. of the Globigerina-ooze of the mid-Atlantic, where it seems to be always present; and the small proportion of similar matter in true chalk is another proof that its origin is different, and that it was deposited far more rapidly than the oceanic ooze.

The following analysis of chalk by Mr. D. Forbes will show the difference between the two formations:—

Grey Chalk,
Folkestone.
White Chalk,
Shoreham.
Carbonate of Lime 94·09 98·40
Carbonate of Magnesia 0·31 0·08
Alumina and Phosphoric Acid a trace 0·42
Chloride of Sodium 1·29
Insoluble débris 3·61 1·10

(From Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, Vol. XXVII.)

The large proportion of carbonate of lime, and the very small quantity of silica, alumina, and insoluble débris, at once distinguish true chalk from the Globigerina-ooze of the deep ocean bed.

24 ^  Notes on Reticularian Rhizopoda; in Microscopical Journal, Vol. XIX., New Series, p. 84.

25 ^  Proceedings of the Royal Society, Vol. XXIV. p. 532.

26 ^  See Presidential Address in Sect. D. of British Association at Plymouth, 1877.

27 ^  Geological Magazine, 1871, p. 426.

28 ^  In his lecture on Geographical Evolution (which was published after the greater part of this chapter had been written) Sir Archibald Geikie expresses views in complete accordance with those here advocated. He says:—"The next long era, the Cretaceous, was more remarkable for slow accumulation of rock under the sea than for the formation of new land. During that time the Atlantic sent its waters across the whole of Europe and into Asia. But they were probably nowhere more than a few hundred feet deep over the site of our continent, even at their deepest part. Upon their bottom there gathered a vast mass of calcareous mud, composed in great part of foraminifera, corals, echinoderms, and molluscs. Our English chalk, which ranges across the north of France, Belgium, Denmark, and the north of Germany, represents a portion of the deposits of that sea-floor." The weighty authority of the Director-General of the Geological Survey may perhaps cause some geologists to modify their views as to the deep-sea origin of chalk, who would have treated any arguments advanced by myself as not worthy of consideration.

29 ^  Introduction and Succession of Vertebrate Life in America, by Professor O. C. Marsh. Reprinted from the Popular Science Monthly, March, April, 1878.

30 ^  Physical Geography and Geology of Great Britain, 5th Ed. p. 61.

31 ^  Of late it has been the custom to quote the so-called "ridge" down the centre of the Atlantic as indicating an extensive ancient land. Even Professor Judd at one time adopted this view, speaking of the great belt of Tertiary volcanoes "which extended through Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Hebrides, Ireland, Central France, the Iberian Peninsula, the Azores, Madeira, Canaries, Cape de Verde Islands, Ascension, St. Helena, and Tristan d'Acunha, and which constituted as shown by the recent soundings of H.M.S. Challenger a mountain-range, comparable in its extent, elevation, and volcanic character with the Andes of South America" (Geological Mag. 1874, p. 71). On examining the diagram of the Atlantic Ocean in the Challenger Reports, No. 7, a considerable part of this ridge is found to be more than 1,900 fathoms deep, while the portion called the "Connecting Ridge" seems to be due in part to the deposits carried out by the River Amazon. In the neighbourhood of the Azores, St. Paul's Rocks, Ascension, and Tristan d'Acunha are considerable areas varying from 1,200 to 1,500 fathoms deep, while the rest of the ridge is usually 1,800 or 1,900 fathoms. The shallower water is no doubt due to volcanic upheaval and the accumulation of volcanic ejections, and there may be many other deeply submerged old volcanoes on the ridge; but that it ever formed a chain of mountains "comparable in elevation with the Andes," there seems not a particle of evidence to prove. It is however probable that this ridge indicates the former existence of some considerable Atlantic islands, which may serve to explain the presence of a few identical genera, and even species of plants and insects in Africa and South America, while the main body of the fauna and flora of these two continents remains radically distinct.

In my Darwinism (pp. 344-5) I have given an additional argument founded on the comparative height and area of land with the depth and area of ocean, which seems to me to add considerably to the weight of the evidence here submitted for the permanence of oceanic and continental areas.

32 ^  In a review of Mr. T. Mellard Reade's Chemical Denudation and Geological Time, in Nature (Oct. 2nd, 1879), the writer remarks as follows:—"One of the funny notions of some scientific thinkers meets with no favour from Mr. Reade, whose geological knowledge is practical as well as theoretical. They consider that because the older rocks contain nothing like the present red clays, &c., of the ocean floor, that the oceans have always been in their present positions. Mr. Reade points out that the first proposition is not yet proved, and the distribution of animals and plants and the fact that the bulk of the strata on land are of marine origin are opposed to the hypothesis." We must leave it to our readers to decide whether the "notion" developed in this chapter is "funny," or whether such hasty and superficial arguments as those here quoted from a "practical geologist" have any value as against the different classes of facts, all pointing to an opposite conclusion, which have now been briefly laid before them, supported as they are by the expressed opinion of so weighty an authority as Sir Archibald Geikie, who, in the lecture already quoted says:—"From all this evidence we may legitimately conclude that the present land of the globe, though formed in great measure of marine formations, has never lain under the deep sea; but that its site must always have been near land. Even its thick marine limestones are the deposits of comparatively shallow water."