Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/June 1894/The Ice Age and its Work IV

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1221333Popular Science Monthly Volume 45 June 1894 — The Ice Age and its Work IV1894Alfred Russel Wallace





THERE is really only one alternative theory to that of ice erosion for the origin of the class of lakes we have been discussing, viz., that they were formed before the Glacial epoch, by earth movements of the same nature as those which are concerned in mountain formation, that is, by lateral pressure causing folds or flexures of the surface; and where such flexures occurred across a valley a lake would be the result. This is Prof. Bonney's theory given in his paper in the Geographical Journal, and it is also that of Desor, Forel, Favre, and other eminent geologists. It is explained fully in the work of M. Falsan (already quoted), who also adopts it; and it may be considered, therefore, that if this theory can be shown to be untenable that of glacial erosion will hold the field, since there is no other that can seriously compete with it. Prof. Bonney considers this theory completely satisfactory, and he complains that the advocates of glacial erosion have never discussed it, intimating that they "deemed silence on this topic more prudent than speech."

As this theory is put forward with so much confidence, and by geologists of such high reputation, I feel bound to devote some space to its consideration, and shall, I think, be able to show that it breaks down on close examination.

In the first place, it does not attempt to explain that wonderful absence of valley lakes from all the mountain regions of the world, except those which have been highly glaciated. It is, no doubt, true that during the time the lakes were filled with ice instead of water, they would be preserved from filling up by the influx of sediment; and this may be fairly claimed as a reason why lakes of this class should be somewhat more numerous in glaciated regions, but it does not in any way explain their total absence elsewhere. We are asked to believe that in the period immediately preceding the Glacial epoch—say, in the Newer Pliocene period—earth movements of a nature to produce deep lakes occurred in every mountain range without exception that was about to be subject to severe glaciation, and not only so, but occurred on both sides of each range, as in the Alps, or all round a mountain range, as in our lake district, or in every part of a complex mountain region, as in Scotland from the Frith of Clyde to the extreme north coast—all in this very limited period of geological time. We are further asked to believe that during the whole period from the commencement of the Ice age to our day such earth movements have never produced a single group of valley lakes in any one of the countless mountain ranges and hilly regions throughout the whole of the very much more extensive non-glaciated regions of the globe! This appears to me to be simply incredible. The only way to get over the difficulty is to suppose that earth movements of this nature occurred only at that one period, just before the Ice age came on, and that the lakes produced by them in all other regions have since been filled up. But is there any evidence of this? And is it probable that all lakes so produced in non-glaciated regions, however large and deep they might be, and however little sediment was carried down by their inflowing streams, should yet all have disappeared? The theory of the pre-glacial origin of these lakes thus rests upon a series of highly improbable suppositions entirely unsupported by any appeal to facts. There is, however, another difficulty which is perhaps even greater than those just considered. Whatever may be the causes of the compression, elevation, folding, and other earth movements which have led to the formation of mountain masses, there can be no doubt that they have operated with extreme slowness; and all the evidence we have of surface movements now going on show that they are so slow as to be detected only by careful and long-continued observations. On the other hand, the action of rivers in cutting down rocky barriers is comparatively rapid, especially when, as in all mountainous countries, they carry in their waters large quantities of sediment, and during floods bring down also abundance of sand, gravel, and large stones. A remarkable illustration of this erosive power is afforded by the river Simeto, in Sicily, which has cut a channel through solid lava which was formed by an eruption in the year 1603. In 1828, Sir Charles Lyell states, it had cut a ravine through this compact blue rock from fifty to several hundred feet wide, and in some parts from forty to fifty feet deep.[1] The enormous cañon of the Colorado, from three thousand to five thousand feet deep and four hundred miles long, which has been entirely cut through a series of Mesozoic and Palæozoic rocks during the latter portion of the Tertiary period, is another example of the wonderful cutting power of running water.

It is, in fact, only on account of this powerful agency that we do not find valley lakes abounding in every mountainous country, since it is quite certain that earth movements of various kinds must have been continually taking place. But if rivers have always been able to keep their channels clear, during such movements, among the mountains of the tropics and of all warm countries, some reason must be found for their inability to do so in the Alps and in Scotland, in Cumberland, Wales, and southern New Zealand; and as no reason is alleged, or any proof offered, that sufficiently rapid and extensive earth movements actually did occur in the subalpine valleys of these countries, we must decline to accept such a hypothetical and unsatisfactory explanation.

Nothing is more easy, and nothing seems at first sight more plausible, than to allege these "earth movements" to account for any one lake whose origin may be under discussion. But it ceases to be either easy or plausible when we consider the great number of the lakes to be accounted for, their remarkable positions and groupings, and their great depths. We must postulate these movements, all about the same time, in every part of the Highlands of Scotland, everywhere in the Lake district, and on both sides of the Alps. Then, again, the movements must have been of greater extent just where we can prove the glaciation to have been most severe. It produced lakes from one hundred feet to two hundred and seventy feet deep in Cumberland and Westmoreland; in Scotland, where the ice was much thicker, the lakes are from over three hundred to over one thousand feet deep; while in the Alps of Switzerland and North Italy, with its vast glaciers and ice-sheets, many are over one thousand feet, and one reaches the enormous depth of over twenty-five hundred feet. It may be said that the depth is in proportion to the height of the mountains; but in equally high mountains that have not been glaciated there are no lakes, so this can not be the true explanation. One more remarkable coincidence must, however, be pointed out. The two largest Swiss lakes—those of Geneva and Constance—are situated just where the two greatest West European rivers, the Rhone and the Rhine, get beyond the mountain ranges; while on the south, one of the largest and by far the deepest of the lakes—Lake Maggiore—collected into its basin the glacier streams from a hundred miles of the high Alps, extending from Monte Rosa on the west to the peaks above San Bernardino on the east. Throughout this great curve of snowy peaks the streams converge, with an average length of only thirty miles, to unite in a valley only six hundred and forty-six feet above the sea level. No such remarkable concentration of valleys is to be found anywhere else in the Alps, and no other lake reaches to nearly so great a depth. On the theory of glacial erosion we have here cause and effect; on that of earth movements we have another mere coincidence added to the long series already noticed. The depth of over twenty-five hundred feet undoubtedly seems enormous, but that depth exists just at the point where the two great valleys which have collected the converging streams above referred to unite together. Geologists will probably not think thirty thousand years an extravagant estimate for the duration of the Glacial period, in which case an erosion of only an inch in a year would be sufficient. Lago di Garda, the largest Italian lake, had a still larger catchment area in glacial times but not nearly so much concentrated; hence, perhaps, its comparatively moderate depth of about one thousand feet. We see, then, that on the theory of erosion, the size, depth, and position of the chief lakes are all intelligible, while on that of earth movements they have no meaning whatever, since the deep-seated agencies producing subsidence, upheaval, or curvature of the surface would be as likely to act in the small as in the large valleys, and to produce deep lakes in other places than those where, at a later epoch, the thickest glaciers accumulated.

The Contours and Outlines of the Lakes indicate Erosion rather than Submergence.—While Collecting facts for the present articles, it occurred to me that the rival theories of lake formation—erosion and submergence—were so different in their modes of action that they ought to produce some marked difference in the result. There must be some criteria by which to distinguish the two modes of origin. Under any system of earth movements a valley bottom will simply become submerged, and be hardly more altered than if it had been converted into a lake by building an artificial dam in a convenient situation. We should find, therefore, merely a submerged valley with all its usual peculiarities. If, however, the lake basin has been formed by glacial erosion, then some of the special valley features will have been destroyed, and we shall have a distinct set of characters which will be tolerably constant in all lakes so formed. Now I find that there are three such criteria by which we ought to be able to distinguish the two classes of lakes, and the application of these tests serves to show that most of the valley lakes of glaciated countries were not formed by submergence.

The first point is that valleys in mountainous countries often have the river channel forming a ravine for a few miles, afterward opening out into a flat valley, and then again closing, while at an elevation of a hundred or a few hundred feet, at the level of the top of the ravine, the valley walls slope back on each side, perhaps to be again flanked by precipices. Now, if such a valley were converted into a deep lake by any form of subsidence, these ravines would remain under water and form submerged river channels. But neither in the lakes which have been surveyed by the Swiss Government, nor in the Atlas des Lacs Françaises of M. Delebecque, nor in those of the German Alps by Dr. Alois Geistbeck, nor in the lakes of our own country, can I find any indications of such submerged river channels or ravines, or any other of the varied rock features that so often occur in valleys. Almost all these lakes present rather steeply sloping sides with broad, rounded, or nearly level bottoms of saucer shape, such as are certainly not characteristic of subaërial valley bottoms, but which are exactly what we might expect as the ultimate result of thousands of years of incessant ice grinding. The point is, not that the lake bottoms may not in a few cases represent the contours of a valley, but that they never present peculiarities of contour which are not unfrequent in mountain valleys, and never show submerged ravines or those jutting rocky promontories which are so common a feature in hilly districts.

The next point is, that Alpine lake bottoms, whether large or small, frequently consist of two or more distinct basins, a feature which could not occur in lakes due to submergence unless there were two or more points of flexure for each depression, a thing highly improbable even in the larger lakes and almost impossible in the smaller. Flexures of almost any degree of curvature are no doubt found in the rocks forming mountain chains; but these flexures have been produced deep down under enormous pressure of overlying strata, whereas the surface beds which are supposed to have been moved to cause lakes are free to take any upward or downward curves, and, as the source of motion is certainly deep-seated, those curves will usually be of very gradual curvature. Yet in the small lake of Annecy there are two separate basins; in Lake Bourget also two; in the small lake of Aiguebellette, in Savoy, there are three distinct basins of very different depths; and in the Lac de St. Point, about four miles long, there are also three separate flat basins. In Switzerland the same phenomenon is often found. In the Lake of Neufchâtel there are three basins separated by ridges from twenty to thirty feet above the deeper parts. The small Lac de Joux, at the head of a high valley in the Jura, has also three shallow basins. Lake Zurich consists of three well-marked basins. The exceedingly irregular Lake of Lucerne, formed by the confluence of many valleys meeting at various angles hemmed in by precipitous mountains, has eight distinct basins, mostly separated by shallows at the narrow openings between opposing mountain ridges. This is exactly what would result from glacier action, the grinding power of which must always be at a maximum in the wider parts of valleys, where the weight of the ice could exert its full force and the motion be least impeded. On the subsidence or curvature theory, however, there is no reason why the greatest depth should occur in one part rather than in another, while separate basins in the variously diverging arms of one lake seem most improbable. The lakes of Thun and Brienz form two basins of what was evidently once a single lake. The upper or Brienz basin is enormously deep, over two thousand feet, and the reason is obvious. The combined glaciers of the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald Valleys entered the main valley in a direction almost opposite to that of the Aare, piling up the ice against the great barrier of the Rieder Grat, so that it at length flowed downward with greatly increased grinding power; while lower down, toward Thun, the valley opens widely and would thus allow the ice to spread out with greatly diminished thickness. In our own country Loch Lomond and Ullswater have been found to consist of several distinct basins, and in none of our lakes have any indications of submerged river channels yet been found.

The third point of difference between lakes of erosion and those of submersion is the most important and the most distinctive, and furnishes, I think, what may be termed a diagnostic character of lakes of erosion. In most river valleys through a hilly or mountainous country outside of the glaciated districts, the tributary streams entering more or less at right angles to the main valley are seen to occupy small valleys of their own, which usually open out for a short distance at the same level before joining the main valley. Of course, there are also torrents which rush down steep mountain slopes directly to the main river, but even these have usually cut ravines more or less deeply into the rock. Now, if in such a valley we could mark out a contour line two hundred, three hundred, or five hundred feet above the level of the main stream, we should see that line continually turning up each side valley or ravine till it reached the given level at which to cross the tributary stream, and then turning back to the main valley. The contour line would thus form a series of notches or loops of greater or less depth at every tributary stream with its entering valley or deeply cut ravine, and if the main valley were filled with water this line would mark out the margin of the lake. As an illustration of this feature we may take the southwest coast of England, which has never been glaciated, but which has undergone a slight recent subsidence, as indicated by the submerged forests which occur at several places. The result of this submergence is that the lower parts of its larger river valleys have been converted into inland tidal lakes, such as Poole Harbor, Dartmouth Harbor, Kingsbridge River, Plymouth and Devonport Harbors, and Carrick Road above Falmouth. The Dart River is an excellent example of such a submerged valley, and its outline at high-water mark is shown at (3) on the

Lake Forms due to Erosion (1, 2); to Submersion (3, 4)

accompanying cut, where the characteristic outline of such a valley is well indicated, the water running up every tributary stream, as described above. The lower section (4) shows the same feature by means of a map of the river Tweed, near Peebles, with the seven hundred feet contour line marked on it by a dotted line.[2] If the valley were submerged to this depth the dotted line would mark the outline of a lake, with arms running up every tributary stream just as in the case of the river Dart. Although situated in a glaciated district the valley here is post-glacial, all the old river channels being deeply buried in drift.

If we now turn to the valley lakes in glaciated districts we shall find that they have a very different contour, as shown by the two upper outline maps on the same page: (1) showing the upper part of Ullswater on a scale of one mile to an inch, as in the Dart and Tweed maps; and (2) showing the upper part of Lake Como, taken from the Alpine Club map, on a scale of four miles to an inch. In both of these it will be seen that the water never forms inlets up the inflowing streams, but all of these without exception form an even junction with the lake margin, just as they would do if flowing into a river. Exactly the same feature is present in the lower portions of these two lakes, and it is equally a characteristic of every lake in the Lake district, and of all the Swiss and Italian lakes. On looking at the maps of any of these lakes one can not but see that the lake surface, not the lake bottom, represents approximately the level of the pre-glacial valley, and that the lateral streams and torrents enter the lake in the way they do because they could only erode their channels down to the level of the old valley before the ice overwhelmed it. Of course, this rule does not apply to large tributary valleys carrying separate glaciers, since these would be eroded by the ice almost as deeply as the main valley.

The three features of the valley lakes of glaciated regions now pointed out—the absence of submerged ravines or river channels either of the main river or of tributary streams; the basin forms of the lake bottoms and the frequent occurrence of two or more separate basins even in small lakes; and the simple form of surface contour of all this class of lakes, so strongly contrasting with that of valleys known to have been recently submerged, as well as with the contour lines of valleys in non-glaciated districts and in those which are known to be post-glacial—seem to afford, as nearly as the case admits, a demonstration that the lakes presenting these features have been formed by erosion and not by submergence.

In connection with this subject may be noticed the many cases in which Alpine valleys present indications of having been greatly deepened by glacial erosion, although, owing either to the slope of the ground or the uniformity of the ice action, no lake has been produced. In some valleys, as in that of Lauterbrunnen, the trough between the vertical rock walls was probably partly formed before the Ice age, but was greatly deepened by glacial erosion, the result being that the tributary streams have not since had time to evacuate ravines of equal depth with the main valley, and therefore form a series of cascades over the lateral precipices, of which the Staubbach is the finest example. In many other cases, however, the side streams have cut wonderfully narrow gorges by which they enter the main vally. This work was probably begun by a subglacial stream, and the action of the atmosphere being shut out by the superincumbent ice and all variation of temperature avoided, the torrent cut for itself a very narrow groove, sometimes with overhanging sides, as it found layers of somewhat softer rock to eat away; and the upper surface of the rock being ground smooth by the ice, the atmosphere has had little effect since, and the gorge, while deepened below, has remained as restricted above as when first eroded. Such are the gorges of the Trient, Leuk, Pfäffers, and many others well known to Alpine tourists. I am not aware whether such extremely narrow winding gorges, often only two or three feet between the rock walls, are to be found in countries which have never been glaciated. I do not myself remember reading of any, though, of course, tremendously deep ravines are common, but these are of quite a different character. Should it be found that these extremely narrow rock-walled gorges are peculiar to glaciated districts they will afford us a means of estimating the amount of glacial erosion in valleys where no lake basins have been formed.

The Lake of Geneva as a Test of the Rival Theories.—When I recently began to study this question anew, I was inclined to think that the largest and deepest of the Alpine lakes, such as Geneva, Constance, Lago Maggiore, and Lago di Garda, might perhaps have originated from a combination of earth movements with ice erosion. But on further consideration it appears that all the characteristic features of erosion are present in these as fully as in the smaller lakes. They are situated in the largest river valleys or in positions of greatest concentration of the glacier streams; their contours and outlines are those of eroded basins; while all the difficulties in the way of an origin by earth movements are as prominent in their case as in that of any other of the lakes. I will therefore discuss, first, some of the chief objections to the erosion theory as applied to the above-named lake, and then consider the only alternative theory that has obtained the acceptance of modern writers.

One of the first objections made was, that the lake did not lie in the direction of the greatest action of the glacier, which was straight across to the Jura where the highest erratic blocks are found. This was urged by Sir Charles Lyell, immediately after Ramsay's paper was read, and as it has quite recently been put forth by Prof. Bonney, it would appear to be thought to be a real difficulty. Yet a little consideration will show that it has not the slightest weight. No lake was eroded in the line of motion of the central and highest part of the old glacier, because that line was over an elevated and hilly plateau, which is even now from five hundred to a thousand feet above the lake, and was then even higher, since the ice-sheet certainly effected some erosion. The greatest amount of erosion was of course in the broad and nearly level valley of the pre-glacial Rhone, which followed the great curve of the existing lake, and had produced so open a valley because the rocks in that direction to were easily denuded. Objectors invariably forget or overlook the indisputable fact that the existence of a broad, open, flat-bottomed valley in any part of a river's course proves that the rocks were there either softer or more friable, or more soluble, or by some combination of characters more easily denuded. A number of favorable conditions were combined to render ice erosion easy in such a valley. The rock was, as we have shown, more easy to erode; owing to the low level the ice was thicker and had greater weight there than elsewhere; cowing to the flatness and openness of the valley the ice moved more freely there; owing to the long previous course of the glacier its under surface would be heavily loaded with rock and grit, which during its whole course would, by mere gravitation, have been slowly working its way downward to the lowest level; and, lastly, all the subglacial torrents would accumulate in this lowest valley, and, as erosion went on, would, under great hydrostatic pressure, wash away all the ground-out material, and so facilitate erosion. To ask why the lake was formed in the valley, where everything favored erosion, rather than on the plateau, where everything was against it, is to make mere verbal objections which have no relation to the conditions that actually existed.

Another objection almost equally beside the real question is to ask why the deepest part of the lake is near the south or convex side, whereas a stream of water always exerts most erosive force against the concave side.[3] The answer is, that ice is not water, and that it moves so slowly as to act, in many respects, in quite a different manner. Its greatest action is where it is deepest—in the middle of the ice stream—while water acts least where it is deepest, and more forcibly at the side than in the middle. The lake is, no doubt, deepest in the line of the old river, where the valley was lowest; and that may well have been nearer the southern than the northern side of the lake.

Another frequently urged objection is, that as the glacier has not widened the narrow valley from Martigny to Bex it could not have eroded a lake nearly a thousand feet deep. This seems to me a complete non sequitur. As a glacier erodes mainly by its vertical pressure and by the completeness of its grinding armature of rock, it is clear that its grinding power laterally must have been very much less than vertically, both on account of the smaller pressure because it would mold itself less closely to the ever-varying rocky protuberances, and mainly, perhaps, because at the almost vertical sides of the valley it would have a very small stony armature, the blocks continually working their way downward to the bottom. Thus, much of the ice in contact with the sides of narrow ravines might be free of stones, and would therefore exert hardly any grinding power. It is also quite certain that the ice in this narrow valley rose to an enormous height, and that the chief motion and also the chief erosion would be on the lateral slopes, while the lower strata, wedged in the gorge, would be almost stationary.

The most recent researches, according to M. Falsan, show that the thickness of the ice has been usually underestimated. A terminal moraine on the Jura at Chasseron is four thousand feet above the sea, or twenty-seven hundred and seventy feet above Geneva. In order that the upper surface of the ice should have had sufficient incline to flow onward as it did, it was probably five thousand or six thousand feet thick below Martigny and four thousand or five thousand feet over the middle of the lake. It is certain, at all events, that whatever thickness was necessary to cause onward motion, that thickness could not fail to be produced, since it is only by the onward motion to some outlet or lowland where the ice can be melted away as fast as it is renewed that indefinite enlargement of a glacier is avoided. The essential condition for the formation of a glacier at all is that more ice should be produced annually than is melted away. So long as the quantity produced is on the average more than that melted, the glaciers will increase; and as the more extended surface of ice, up to a certain point, by forming a refrigerator helps its own extension, a very small permanent annual surplus may lead to an enormous extension of the ice. Hence, if at any stage in its development the end of a glacier remains stationary, either owing to some obstacle in its path or to its having reached a level plain. where it is unable to move onward, the annual surplus of ice produced will go to increase the thickness of the glacier and its upper slope till motion is produced. The ice then flows onward till it reaches a district warm enough to bring about an equilibrium between growth and dissolution. If, therefore, at any stage in the growth of a glacier a thickness of six, seven, or even eight thousand feet is needed to bring about this result, that thickness will inevitably be produced. We know that the glacier of the Rhone did move onward to the Jura and beyond it; that the northward branch flowed on beyond Soleure till it joined the glacier of the Rhine; and that its southern branch carried Alpine erratics to the country between Bourg and Lyons, two hundred and fifty miles from its source. We know, too, that throughout this distance it moved at the bottom as well as at the top, by the rounded and polished rocks and beds of stiff bowlder clay which are found in almost every part of its course.

In view, therefore, of the admitted facts, all the objections alleged by the best authorities are entirely wanting in real force or validity; while the enormous size and weight of the glacier and its long duration, as indicated by the great distance to which it extended beyond the site of the lake, render the excavation by it of such a basin as easy to conceive as the grinding out of a small Alpine tarn by ice not one fourth as thick, and in a situation where the grinding material in its lower strata would probably be comparatively scanty.

We have now to consider the theory of Desor, adopted by M. Favre, and set forth in the recent work of M. Falsan as being "more precise and more acceptable" than that of Ramsay. We are first made acquainted with a fact which I have not yet alluded to, and which most writers on the subject either fail to notice or attempt to explain by theories, as compared with which that of Ramsay is simple, probable, and easy of comprehension. This fact is, that around Geneva at the outlet of the lake, as well as at the outlets of the other great lakes, there is spread out an old alluvium which is always found underneath the bowlder clay and other glacial deposits. This alluvium is, moreover, admitted to be formed in every case of materials largely derived from the great Alpine range. Now here is a fact which of itself amounts to a demonstration that the lakes did not exist before the Ice age; because, in that case all the Alpine débris would be intercepted by the lake (as it is now intercepted), and the alluvium below the glacial deposits would be, in the case of Geneva, that formed by the wash from the adjacent slopes of the Jura; while in every case it would be local not Alpine alluvium.

Prof. James Geikie informs me that he considers the so-called "old alluvium" to be probably only the fluvio-glacial gravels and sands swept out from underneath the advancing glacier, and therefore to be no older, geologically, than the moraine matter which overlies it. The Swiss geologists, however, do not appear to hold this view, since they have recourse to a very remarkable hypothesis in order to overcome what they evidently believe to be a real difficulty in the way of the pre-glacial origin of the lake. The suggested explanation is as follows: At the beginning of the Ice age the glacier of the Rhone crept on down its valley past Martigny and St. Maurice till it reached the lake; it is then supposed not to have marched on with an ice wall, say five hundred or more feet high, but to have at once spread out like so much soft pitch, and to have filled the lake to its present water level or thereabouts. Then, over this great plain of ice, the subglacial torrent of the Rhone is supposed to have flowed, carrying with it and depositing at the end of the lake that ancient alluvium which, somehow, has got to be accounted for![4]

Having thus filled the lake with ice instead of water, the main body of the glacier is supposed to start afresh and to travel over the ice, and thus obviate the imaginary difficulty of a glacier moving up hill, though every student of glaciers now admits that they did so, and though it is universally admitted that this very glacier of the Rhone moved over higher, steeper, and more irregular hills on its way to the Jura and to Soleure.

Now this extraordinary theory involves two difficulties which are passed by in silence, but which seem to entirely contravene all that we know of the nature of glaciers, and to be entirely unsupported by facts. The first is, the glacier ceasing to move onward as a glacier, but spreading out to fill up a lake basin, as if the lake were simply frozen to the bottom. Is this conceivable or possible? I think not. When glaciers come down to a fiord or to the sea they do not spread out laterally, but move on till the water is deep enough to buoy them up and break off icebergs, and no reason is given why anything different should have happened in the case of the great Swiss and Italian lakes, supposing they existed before the Ice age came on. That the glacier should afterward slide over this level plain of ice is equally inconceivable, in view of the property of regelation of ice under pressure. Owing to this property the glacier and the lake ice would become one mass, and would move on together under the law of decreasing velocity with depth. This, however, is of little importance if, as I conceive, the supposition of the formation of an ice-sheet at the water level for fifty miles in advance of the glacier is an impossible one. The only other theory is, that the lake was filled up by alluvium before the Ice age, and that the glacier re-excavated it. I have, however, already given reasons why the glacier would not have done so, and the very existence of this ancient alluvium in the course of the ancient glacier is a proof that it did not do so. This theory seems now to have no supporters.

Summary of the Evidence.—As the subject here discussed is very complex, and the argument essentially a cumulative one, it will be well briefly to summarize its main points.

In the first place, it has been shown that the valley lakes of highly glaciated districts form a distinct class, which are highly characteristic if not altogether peculiar, since in none of the mountain ranges of the tropics or of non-glaciated regions over the whole world are any similar lakes to be found.

The special conditions favorable to the erosion of lake basins and the mode of action of the ice-tool are then discussed, and it is shown that these conditions have been either overlooked or ignored by the opponents of the theory of ice erosion.

The objections of modern writers are then considered, and they are shown to be founded either on mistaken ideas as to the mode of erosion by glaciers, or on not taking into account results of glacier action which they themselves either admit or have not attempted to disprove.

The alternative theory—that earth movements of various kinds led to the production of lake basins in all mountain ranges, and that those in glaciated regions were preserved by being filled with ice—is shown to be beset with numerous difficulties, physical, geological, and geographical, which its supporters have not attempted to overcome. It is also pointed out that this theory in no way explains the occurrence of the largest and deepest lakes in the largest river valleys, or in those valleys where there was the greatest concentration of glaciers, a peculiarity of their distribution which points directly and unmistakably to ice erosion.

A crucial test of the two theories is then suggested, and it is shown that both the subaqueous contours of the lake basins and the superficial outlines of the lakes are exactly such as would be produced by ice erosion, while they could not possibly have been caused by submergence due to any form of earth movements. It is submitted that we have here a positive criterion, now adduced for the first time, which is absolutely fatal to any theory of submersion.

Lastly, the special case of the Lake of Geneva is discussed, and it is shown that the explanation put forth by the anti-glacialists is wholly unsupported by facts and is opposed to the known laws of glacier motion. The geologists who support it themselves furnish evidence against their own theory in the ancient alluvium at Geneva on which the glacial deposits rest, and which is admitted to be mainly derived from the distant Alps. But as all alluvial matter is necessarily intercepted by large and deep lakes, the presence of this Alpine alluvium immediately beneath the glacial débris at the foot of the lake indicates that the lake did not exist in pre-glacial times, but that the river Rhone flowed from the Alps to Geneva, carrying with it the old alluvium, consisting of mud, sand, and gravel, which it had brought down from the mountains. Still more conclusive, however, is the fact that the three special features which have been shown to indicate erosion rather than submergence are present in this lake as fully as in all other Alpine valley lakes and unmistakably point to the glacial origin of all of them.

On the whole, I venture to claim that the facts and considerations set forth in this paper show such a number of distinct lines of evidence, all converging to establish the theory of the ice erosion of the valley lakes of highly glaciated regions—a theory first advocated by the late Sir Andrew Ramsay—that that theory must be held to be established, at all events provisionally, as the only one by which the whole body of the facts can be explained and harmonized.—Fortnightly Review.


  1. Principles of Geology, eleventh ed., vol. i, p. 353.
  2. Copied from a portion of the map at page 144 of Geikie's Great Ice Age, taken from the Ordnance Survey Map.
  3. Falsan, La Période Glaciaire, p. 153, Fabre, Origine des Lacs Alpins, p. 4.
  4. A. Falsan, La Période Glaciaire, pp. 135, 137.