Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/270

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

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![1]

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,


  1. A. Falsan, La Période Glaciaire, pp. 135, 137.