Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/476

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
462
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

in any description of the fauna of a particular region to consider its physical conditions and the influence that it may be supposed to have had in producing the characteristics of the fauna.

The peculiar physical conditions of the deep seas may be briefly stated to be these: It is absolutely dark so far as actual sunlight is concerned, the temperature is only a few degrees above freezing point, the pressure is enormous, there is little or no movement of the water, the bottom is composed of a uniform fine soft mud, and there is no plant life. All of these physical conditions we can appreciate except the enormous pressure. Absolute darkness we know, the temperature of the deep seas is not an extraordinary one, the absence of movement in the water and the fine soft mud are conditions that we can readily appreciate; but the pressure is far greater than anything we can realize. At a depth of twenty-five hundred fathoms the pressure is, roughly speaking, two and a half tons per square inch—that is to say, several times greater than the pressure exerted by the steam upon the piston of our most powerful engines. Or, to put the matter in other words, the pressure per square inch upon the body of every animal that lives at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is about twenty-five times greater than the pressure that will drive a railway train.

A most beautiful experiment to illustrate the enormous force of this pressure was made during the voyage of H. M. S. Challenger. I give the description of it in the words of the late Prof. Moseley: "Mr. Buchanan hermetically sealed up at both ends a thick glass tube full of air, several inches in length. He wrapped this sealed tube in flannel, and placed it, so wrapped up, in a wide copper tube, which was one of those used to protect the deep-sea thermometers when sent down with the sounding apparatus. This copper tube was closed by a lid fitting loosely, and with holes in it, and the copper bottom of the tube similarly had holes bored through it. The water thus had free access to the interior of the tube when it was lowered into the sea, and the tube was necessarily constructed with that object in view, in order that in its ordinary use the water should freely reach the contained thermometer.

"The copper case containing the sealed glass tube was sent down to a depth of two thousand fathoms and drawn up again. It was then found that the copper wall of the case was bulged and bent inward opposite the place where the glass tube lay, just as if it had been crumpled inward by being violently squeezed. The glass tube itself, within its flannel wrapper, was found, when withdrawn, reduced to a fine powder, like snow almost. What had happened was that the sealed glass tube, when sinking to gradually increasing depths, had held out long against the pressure, but this at last had become too great for the glass to sustain.