Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/358

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

drive currents this way and that, causing alternations in sedimentation.

To explain the forest beds buried in the Mississippi silts it has been suggested that the soft deposits of the delta from time to time settled and spread out under their own weight. "Various alternations of strata, and especially those of the coal measures, have been ascribed to successive local subsidences of the earth's crust, caused by the addition of loads of deposit. It has been suggested also that land undergoing erosion may rise up from time to time because relieved of load, and the character of sediment might be changed by such rising. Subterranean forces, of whatever origin, seemingly slumber while strains are accumulating, and then become suddenly manifest in dislocations and eruptions, and such catastrophes affect sedimentation.

A more general rhythm has been ascribed to the tidal retardation of rotation and the resulting change of the earth's form. If the body of the earth has a rather high rigidity, we should expect that it would for a time resist the tendency to become more nearly spherical, while the water of the ocean would accommodate itself to the changing conditions of equilibrium by seeking the higher latitudes. Eventually, however, the solid earth would yield to the strain and its figure become adjusted to the slower rotation, and then the mobile water would return. Thus would be caused periodic transgressions by the sea, occurring alternately in high and low latitudes.

Another general rhythm has been recently suggested by Chamberlin in connection with the hypothesis that secular variations of climate are chiefly due to variations of the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[1] The system of interdependent factors he works out is too complex for presentation at this time, and I must content myself with saying that his explanation of the moraines of recession involves the interaction of a peculiar atmospheric condition with a condition of glaciation, each condition tending to aggravate the other, until the cumulative results brought about a reaction and the climatic pendulum swung in the opposite direction. With each successive oscillation the momentum was less, and an equilibrium was finally reached.

Few of these original rhythms have been used in computations of geologic time, and it is not believed that they have any positive value for that purpose. Nevertheless, account must be taken of them, because they compete with imposed rhythms for the explanation of many phenomena, and the imposed rhythms, wherever established, yield estimates of time.

The tidal period, or the half of the lunar day, is the shortest imposed rhythm appealed to in the explanation of the features of sedimentation.

  1. An attempt to frame a working hypothesis of the cause of glacial periods on an atmospheric basis. Journ. Geol., Vol. VII., 1899.