Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/200

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

This would be simply a return of the glacial age. I have assumed only one geographical change; but other and more complete changes of subsidence and elevation might take place, with effects on climate still more decisive; more especially would this be the case if there were a considerable submergence of the land in temperate latitudes.

We may suppose an opposite case. The high plateau of Greenland might subside or be reduced in height, and the openings of Baffin's Bay and the North Atlantic might be closed. At the same time the interior plain of America might be depressed, so that, as we know to have been the case in the Cretaceous period, the warm waters of the Mexican Gulf would circulate as far north as the basins of the present great American lakes. In these circumstances there would be an immense diminution of the sources of floating ice, and a correspondingly vast increase in the surface of warm water. The effects would be to enable a temperate flora to subsist in Greenland, and to bring all the present temperate regions of Europe and America into a condition of subtropical verdure.

It is only necessary to add that we know that vicissitudes not dissimilar from those above sketched have actually occurred in comparatively recent geological times, to enable us to perceive that we can dispense with all other causes of change of climate, though admitting that some of them may have occupied a secondary place. This will give us, in dealing with the distribution of life, the great advantage of not being tied up to definite astronomical cycles of glaciation, which may not always suit the geological facts, and of correlating elevation and subsidence of the land with changes of climate affecting living beings. It will, however, be necessary, as Wallace well insists, that we shall hold to that degree of fixity of the continents in their position, notwithstanding the submergences and emergences they have experienced, to which I have already adverted. We can now more precisely indicate this than was possible when Lyell produced his "Principles," and can reproduce the conditions of our continents in even the more ancient periods of their history. Some examples may be taken from the history of the American Continent, which is more simple in its arrangements than the double continent of Europ-Asia. We may select the early Devonian or Erian period, in which the magnificent flora of that age—the earliest certainly known to us—made its appearance.

Imagine the whole interior plain of North America submerged, so that the continent is reduced to two strips on the east and west, connected by a belt of Laurentian land on the north. In the great Mediterranean sea thus produced, the tepid water of the equatorial current circulated, and it swarmed with corals, of which we know no less than one hundred and fifty species, and with other forms of life appropriate to warm seas. On the islands and coasts of this sea was introduced the Erian flora, appearing first in the north, and with that vital-