Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/235

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SOME OBSERVATIONS ON NIAGARA.

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its course, from Lewiston Heights to its present position, the form of the fall was probably that of a horseshoe; for this is merely the expression of the greater depth, and consequently greater excavating power, of the centre of the river. The gorge, moreover, varies in width as the depth of the centre of the ancient river varied, being narrowest where that depth was greatest.

The vast comparative erosive energy of the Horseshoe Fall comes strikingly into view when it and the American Fall are compared together. The American branch of the upper river is cut at a right angle by the gorge of the Niagara. Here the Horseshoe Fall was the real excavator. It cut the rock, and formed the precipice over which the American Fall tumbles. But, since its formation, the erosive action of the American Fall has been almost nil, while the Horseshoe has cut its way for 500 yards across the end of Goat Island, and is now doubling back to excavate a channel parallel to the length of the island. This point, I have just learned, has not escaped the acute observation of Prof. Ramsay.[1] The river above the fall bends, and the Horseshoe immediately accommodates itself to the bending, following implicitly the direction of the deepest water in the upper stream. The flexibility of the gorge, if I may use the term, is determined by the flexibility of the river-channel above it. Were the Niagara above the fall far more sinuous than it is, the gorge would obediently follow its sinuosities. Once suggested, no doubt geographers will be able to point out many examples of this action. The Zambesi is thought to present a great difficulty to the erosion theory, because of the sinuosity of the chasm below the Victoria Falls. But, had the river been examined before the formation of this sinuous channel, the present zigzag course of the gorge below the fall could, I am persuaded, have been predicted, while the sounding of the present river would enable us to predict the course to be pursued by the erosion in the future.

But, not only has the Niagara River cut the gorge, it has carried away the chips of its own workshop. The shale being probably crumbled, is easily carried away. But at the base of the fall we find the huge bowlders already described, and by some means or other these are removed down the river. The ice which fills the gorge in winter, and which grapples with the bowlders, has been regarded as the transporting agent. Probably it is so to some extent. But erosion acts without ceasing on the abutting points of the bowlders, thus withdrawing their support, and urging them gradually down the river. Solution also does its portion of the work. That solid matter is carried down is proved by the difference of depth between the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, where the river enters it. The depth falls

  1. His words are: "Where the body of water is small in the American Fall, the edge has only receded a few yards (where most eroded) during the time that the Canadian Fall has receded from the north corner of Goat Island to the innermost curve of the Horseshoe Fall." Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, May, 1859.