Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/28

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16
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of the upper cascade, prolonged the episode to six thousand years, when Foster's Flats were passed. By this time the waters of Lake Huron were probably turned into the Niagara by way of Lake Erie. With the increased magnitude of the river the falls are thought to have receded as far as the head of the whirlpool, requiring four thousand years. By the close of this stage there were some important changes in the river, as when the narrows of the whirlpool rapids were excavated, and the three cataracts of the second episode appear to have been united into one great fall. With the increased volume of water at the maximum height of the falls, as at the apex of the modern horseshoe cataract, the recession was very rapid, so that the falls receded to above the railroad bridges in eight hundred years more. It was in the next episode that the descent of the river was reduced from four hundred and twenty feet to three hundred and twenty-six feet, which is that of the present day. These changes of height of falls and volume of the river must not be supposed to have been sudden, and, although they were secular, yet there were long periods of rest, as shown by the landmarks, which are mostly obliterated where they were imperfectly engraved during short epochs of repose. The first stage of the last episode is characterized by the retreat of the falls through the great rocky barrier (Johnson's Ridge, e e, Fig. 9) on the northern side of the buried Tonawanda Valley. Beyond this barrier the river speedily removed some ninety feet of drift for a distance of a mile and a half to the head of the rapids above the horseshoe cataract, and the recession across the buried valley has been the last stage of the present episode of the falls. Here the necessary time for the retreat of the falls since passing the railway bridges has been three thousand years.

Adding the duration of the various stages of the river together, the age of the falls is computed at thirty-one thousand years, or of the river thirty-two thousand years. These figures are based upon the severest analytical methods at present attainable, but the discoveries in the physics of the river cover most of the doubtful points; yet in the determination of the amount of work performed in the middle episodes some points are open to revision, but the errors they cover form only a small portion of the life of the cataract, and a little time, more or less, would not greatly change the results given. No general guesses or objections have been found worthy of consideration. The determinations had to be attempted in parts, and the aggregate results have been confirmed by two other sets of investigations: one on the relative amount of tilting of the deserted shores, and the other upon the rate of the rising of the land in the Niagara district, which has been found to be about one foot and a quarter a century, but much more rapidly to the north and east.