Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/361

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351
RHYTHMS AND GEOLOGIC TIME.

eventually be established or disproved, and should they be established it is possible that similar correlations may be made between events far more remote.

The studies of these several rhythms, while they have led to the computation of various epochs and stages of geologic time, have not yet furnished an estimate either of the entire age of the earth or of any large part of it. Nevertheless, I believe that they may profitably be followed with that end in view.

The system of rock layers, great and small, constituting the record of sedimentation, may be compared to the scroll of a chronograph. The geologic scroll bears many separate lines, one for each district where rocks are well displayed, but these are not independent, for they are labeled by fossils, and by means of these labels can be arranged in proper relation. In each time line are little jogs—changes in kind of rock or breaks in continuity—and these jogs record contemporary events. A new mountain was uplifted, perhaps, on the neighboring continent, or an old uplift received a new impulse. Through what Davis calls stream piracy a river gained or lost the drainage of a tract of country. Escaping lava threw a dam across the course of a stream, or some Krakatoa strewed ashes over the land and gave the rivers a new material to work on. The jogs may be faint or strong, many or few, and for long distances the lines may run smooth and straight; bat so long as the jogs are irregular they give no clue to time Here and there, however, the even line will betray a regularly recurring indentation or undulation, reflecting a rhythm and possibly significant of a remote pendulum whose rate of vibration is known. If it can be traced to such a pendulum there will result a determination of the rate at which the chronograph scroll moved when that part of the record was made; and a moderate number of such determinations, if well distributed, will convert the whole scroll into a definite time scale.

In other words, if a sufficient number of the rhythms embodied in strata can be identified with particular imposed rhythms, the rates of sedimentation under different circumstances and at different times will become known, and eventually so many parts of geologic time will have become subject to direct calculation that the intervals can be rationally bridged over by the aid of time ratios.

For this purpose there is only one of the imposed rhythms of practical value, namely, the precessional; but that one is, in my judgment, of high value. The tidal rhythm can not be expected to characterize any thick formation. The annual is liable to confusion with a variety of original rhythms, especially those connected with storms. The rhythm of eccentricity, being theoretically expressed only as an accentuation of the precessional, can not ordinarily be distinguished from it. But none of these qualifications apply to the precessional. It is not liable to con-