Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/202

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188
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

have so influenced the ocean-currents as to cause great vicissitudes of climate.

Without entering on any detailed discussion of that last and greatest glacial period which is best known to us, and is more immediately connected with the early history of man and the modern animals, it may be proper to make a few general statements bearing on the relative importance of sea-borne and land ice in producing those remarkable phenomena attributable to ice-action in this period. In considering this question it must be borne in mind that the greater masses of floating ice are produced at the seaward extremities of land glaciers, and that the heavy field-ice of the Arctic regions is not so much a result of the direct freezing of the surface of the sea as of the accumulation of snow precipitated on the frozen surface.

In reasoning on the extent of ice-action, and especially of glaciers in the Pleistocene age, it is necessary to keep this fully in view. Now, in the formation of glaciers at present—and it would seem also in any conceivable former state of the earth—it is necessary that extensive evaporation should conspire with great condensation of water in the solid form. Such conditions exist in mountainous regions sufficiently near to the sea, as in Greenland, Norway, the Alps, and the Himalayas; but they do not exist in low Arctic lands like Siberia or Grinnell-land, nor in inland mountains. It follows that land glaciation has narrow limits, and that we can not assume the possibility of great confluent or continental glaciers covering the interior of wide tracts of land. No imaginable increase of cold could render this possible, inasmuch as there could not be a sufficient influx of vapor to produce the necessary condensation; and the greater the cold, the less would be the evaporation. On the other hand, any increase of heat would be felt more rapidly in the thawing and evaporation of land ice and snow than on the surface of the sea.

Applying these very simple geographical truths to the North Atlantic continents, it is easy to perceive that no amount of refrigeration could produce a continental glacier, because there could not be sufficient evaporation and precipitation to afford the necessary snow in the interior. The case of Greenland is often referred to, but this is the case of a high mass of cold land with sea, mostly open, on both sides of it, giving, therefore, the conditions most favorable to precipitation of snow. If Greenland were less elevated, or if there were dry plains around it, the case would be quite different, as Nares has well shown by his observations on the summer verdure of Grinnell-land, which, in the immediate vicinity of North Greenland, presents very different conditions as to glaciation and climate. If the plains were submerged and the Arctic currents allowed free access to the interior of the Continent of America, it is conceivable that the mountainous regions remaining out of water would be covered with snow and ice, and there is the best evidence that this actually occurred in the glacial period;