from the north. It is, indeed, as if the high land of central Asia had been pushed southward against and over the unyielding mass formed by the old rocks of the Indian peninsula, and in the process the edges of the over-riding strata had been crumpled and folded. Overlooking all smaller details, we may consider Asia to consist of a northern mass and a southern mass, too rigid to crumple, but not too strong to fracture, and an intermediate belt of softer rock which was capable of folding. If then by the contraction of the earth’s interior the outer crust were forced to accommodate itself to a smaller nucleus, the central softer belt would yield by crumpling; the more rigid masses to the north and south, if they gave way at all, would yield by faulting. It is interesting to observe, as will be shown later, that during the Mesozoic era there was a land-mass in the north of Asia and another in the south, and between them lay the sea in which ordinary marine sediments were deposited. The belt of folding does not precisely coincide with this central sea, but the correspondence is fairly close.
The present outline of the eastern coast and the nearly enclosed seas which lie between the islands and the mainland, are attributed by Richthofen chiefly to simple faulting.
Little is known of the early geological history of Asia beyond the fact that a large part of the continent was covered by the sea during the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. But there is positive evidence that much of the north and east of Asia has been land since the Palaeozoic era, and it has been conclusively proved that the peninsula of India has never been beneath the sea since the Carboniferous period at least. Between these ancient land masses lies an area in which marine deposits of Mesozoic age are well developed and which was evidently beneath the sea during the greater part of the Mesozoic era. The northern land-mass has been named Angaraland by E. Suess; the southern, of which the Indian peninsula is but a fragment, is called Gondwanaland by Neumayr, Suess and others; while the intervening sea is the central Mediterranean sea of Neumayr and the Tethys of Suess. The greater part of western Asia, including the basin of the Obi, the drainage area of the Aral Sea, together with Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Persia and Arabia, was covered by the sea during the later stages of the Cretaceous period; but a considerable part of this region was probably dry land in Jurassic times.
The northern land-mass begins in the north with the area which lies between the Yenisei and the Lena. Here the folded Archean rocks are overlaid by Cambrian and Ordovician beds, which still lie for the most part flat and undisturbed. Upon these rest patches of freshwater deposits containing numerous remains of plants. They consist chiefly of sandstone and conglomerate, but include workable seams of coal. Some of the deposits appear to be of Permian age, but others are probably Jurassic; and they are all included under the general name of the Angara series. Excepting in the extreme north, where marine Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils have been found, there is no evidence that this part of Siberia has been beneath the sea since the early part of the Palaeozoic era. Besides the plant beds extensive outflows of basic lava rest directly upon the Cambrian and Ordovician strata. The date of these eruptions is still uncertain, but they probably continued to a very recent period.
South and east of the Palaeozoic plateau is an extensive area consisting chiefly of Archean rocks, and including the greater part of Mongolia north of the Tian-shan. Here again there are no marine beds of Mesozoic or Tertiary age, while plant-bearing deposits belonging to the Angara series are known. Structurally, the folds of this region are of ancient date; but the area is crossed by a series of depressions formed by faults, and the intervening strips, which have not been depressed to the same extent, now stand up as mountain ranges. Farther south, in the Chinese provinces of Shansi and Shensi, the geological succession is similar in some respects to that of the Siberian Palaeozoic plateau, but the sequence is more complete. There is again a floor of folded Archean rocks overlaid by nearly horizontal strata of Lower Palaeozoic age; but these are followed by marine beds belonging to the Carboniferous period. From the Upper Carboniferous onward, however, no marine deposits are known; and, as in Siberia, plant-bearing beds are met with. Southern China is very different in structure, consisting largely of folded mountain chains, but the geological succession is very similar, and excepting near the Tibetan and Burmese borders, there are no marine deposits of Mesozoic or Tertiary age.
Thus it appears that from the Arctic Ocean there stretches a broad area as far as the south of China, in which no marine deposits of later date than Carboniferous have yet been found, except in the extreme north. Freshwater and terrestrial deposits of Mesozoic age occur in many places, and the conclusion is irresistible that the greater part of this area has been land since the close of the Palaeozoic era. The Triassic deposits of the Verkhoyansk Range show that this land did not extend to the Bering Sea; while the marine Mesozoic deposits of Japan on the east, the western Tian-shan on the west and Tibet on the south give us some idea of its limits in other directions.
In the same way the entire absence of any marine fossils in the peninsula of India, excepting near its borders, and the presence of the terrestrial and freshwater deposits of the Gondwana series, representing the whole of the geological scale from the top of the Carboniferous to the top of the Jurassic, show that this region also has been land since the Carboniferous period. It was a portion of a great land-mass which probably extended across the Indian Ocean and was at one time united with the south of Africa.
But these two land-masses were not connected. Between India and China there is a broad belt in which marine deposits of Mesozoic and Tertiary age are well developed. Marine Tertiary beds occur in Burma; in the Himalayas and in south Tibet there is a nearly complete series of marine deposits from the Carboniferous to the Eocene; in Afghanistan the Mesozoic beds are in part marine and in part fluviatile. The sea in which these strata were deposited seems to have attained its greatest extension in Upper Cretaceous times when its waters spread over the whole of western Asia and even encroached slightly upon the Indian land. The Eocene sea, however, cannot have been much inferior in extent.
It was after the Eocene period that the main part of the elevation of the Himalayas took place, as is shown by the occurrence of nummulitic limestone at a height of 20,000 ft. The formation of this and of the other great mountain chains of central Asia resulted in the isolation of portions of the former central sea; and the same forces finally led to the elevation of the whole region and the union of the old continents of Angara and Gondwana. Gondwanaland, however, did not long survive, and the portion which lay between India and South Africa sank beneath the waves in Tertiary times.
Leaving out of consideration all evidence of more ancient volcanic activity, each of the three regions, into which, as we have seen, the continent may be divided, has been, during or since the Cretaceous period, the seat of great volcanic eruptions. In the southern region of unfolded beds are found the lavas of the “harras” of Arabia, and in India the extensive flows of the Deccan Trap. In the central folded belt lie the great volcanoes, now mostly extinct, of Asia Minor, Armenia, Persia and Baluchistan. In Burma also there is at least one extinct volcano. In the northern unfolded region great flows of basic lava lie directly upon the Cambrian and Ordovician beds of Siberia, but are certainly in part of Tertiary age. Similar flows on a smaller scale occur in Manchuria, Korea and northern China.
In all these cases, however, the eruptions have now almost ceased; and the great volcanoes of the present day lie in the islands off the eastern and south-eastern coasts.
References—E. Suess, Das Antlitz der Erde (see, especially, vol. iii. part 1.); F. V. Richthofen, “Ueber Gestalt und Gliederung einer Grundlinie in der Morphologie Ost-Asiens,” Sitz. k. preuss. Akad. Wiss. (Berlin, 1900), pp. 888-925, and “Geomorphologische Studien aus Ostasien,” ibid., 1901, pp. 782-808, 1902, pp. 944-975, 1903, pp. 867-918.
Among the places on the globe where the temperature falls lowest are some in northern Asia, and among those where it rises highest are some in southern Asia. The mean temperature of the north coast of eastern Siberia is but a few degrees Temperature. above the zero of Fahrenheit; the lowest mean temperature anywhere observed is about 4° Fahr., at Melville Island, north of the American continent. The isothermals of mean annual temperature lie over northern Asia on curves tolerably regular in their outline, having their western branches in a somewhat higher latitude than their eastern; a reduction of 1° of latitude corresponds approximately—and irrespective of modifications due to elevation—to a rise of ½° Fahr., as far say as 30° N, where the mean temperature is about 75° Fahr. Farther south the increase is slower, and the highest mean temperature anywhere attained in southern Asia is not much above 82° Fahr.
The variations of temperature are very great in Siberia, amounting near the coast to more than 100° Fahr., between the mean of the hottest and coldest months, and to still more between the extreme temperatures of those months. In southern Asia, and particularly near the sea, the variation between the hottest and coldest monthly means is very much less, and under the equator it is reduced to about 5°. In Siberia the difference between the means of the hottest and coldest months is hardly anywhere less than 60° Fahr. On the Sea of Aral it is 80° Fahr.; and at Astrakhan, on the Caspian, more than 50°. At Tiflis it is 45°. In northern China, at Peking, it is 55°, reduced to 30° at Canton, and to 20° at Manila. In northern India the greatest difference does not exceed 40°; and it falls off to about 15° at Calcutta, and to about 10° or 12° at Bombay and Madras. The temperatures at the head of the Persian Gulf approximate to those of northern India, and those of Aden to Madras. At Singapore the range is less than 5°; and at Batavia in Java, and Galle in Ceylon, it is about the same. The extreme temperatures in Siberia may be considered to lie between 80° and 90° Fahr. for maxima, and between −40° and −70° Fahr. for minima. The extreme of heat near the Caspian and Aral Seas rises to nearly 100° Fahr., while that of cold falls to −20° Fahr. or lower. Compared with these figures, we find in southern Asia 110° or 112° Fahr. as a maximum hardly ever exceeded. The absolute minimum in northern India, in lat. 30°, hardly goes below 32°; at Calcutta it is about 40°, though the thermometer seldom falls to 50°. At Madras it rarely falls as low as 65°, or at Bombay below 60°. At Singapore and Batavia the thermometer very rarely falls below 70°, or rises above 90°. At Aden the minimum is a few degrees below 70°, the maximum not much exceeding 90°.