Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/352

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of the soil on which we dwell. Heavy, towering buildings often stand on a soil which is filled to the extent of a third of its volume with air. The investigation of ground-air has just begun, but it has already surprised us with some unexpected revelations. Ground-air is distinguished from the air that passes over the surface by the higher proportion of carbonic acid it contains, which increases, as a rule, with the distance from the surface, and to which our springs owe their charges of that gas. This carbonic acid is chiefly derived from organic matters and organic life in the ground, with which it increases and diminishes. Air brought by Zittel from the dead dry soil of the Libyan Desert, sealed in glass tubes, showed no larger proportion of carbonic acid than the free superficial air, but the ground-air from a palm-garden in the oasis of Farafreh yielded much carbonic acid. That this gas is mostly derived from organic changes is shown from the investigations of Fleck, Fodor, Wolffhügel, Möller, Wallny, and others, who found that the proportion of oxygen in ground-air was lower, while that of carbonic acid was higher, than in free air.

That the air in the soil does not become stagnant, but is always in motion, though sluggish, not only follows from physical laws, but may be easily proved by experiments and observations. Our houses are aired or ventilated in no small degree by the ground-air. Renk has been inquiring, with the aid of Recknagel's differential manometer, whether the air flows from the ground into the house or from the house into the ground, and has found that through most of the year the draft is from the ground into the house. He has also found that the ground-air, which is sucked into the house, brings, dust with it, and other observers have shown that the same air also carries germs susceptible of development in suitable solutions.

It is thus easy to see how the soil affects our health without our having to eat it; the ground-air plays the part of an always ready intermediate agent, so far as concerns the molds. In this light it is easily seen why some houses sometimes have to suffer so badly from certain conditions of the soil, especially when they are badly ventilated. The movement of the air in a close house is many thousand times less active than where the circulation is free; and the air entering into the house suffers correspondingly less dilution than that passing into the free atmosphere, and leaves in it much more of what it brings up from the ground. While the house is heated during the cold season, and at night in the summer, while the air within-doors is warmer than the surrounding out-door air, the houses act as draught-flues, and suck air out from the ground as if they were cupping-glasses set over it. Experience has long taught us that it is most dangerous to sleep—that is, to pass the night in such noted fever regions as the Pontine Marshes.

Many persons believe that the ground-air is an object whose existence is still pre-eminently theoretical, and that its practical influence