Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/14

This page has been validated.

itself, without flowing through any cañon whatever, and then glance at the gorge of Niagara River, seven miles long, of which only a fragment can be seen in a picture (Fig. 4), the striking difference awakens inquiry. The cause does not lie in either the magnitude of the streams or in the character of the rocks; it is a question of the difference of the age, for Niagara Falls once cascaded from the edge of the mountain wall (Fig. 16) directly into the expanded waters of the Ontario basin just as the Montmorency stream is pouring into the St. Lawrence River to-day.

Early Estimates of the Age of Niagara Falls.—All attempts at reducing geological time to solar years meet with great difficulties, yet Niagara Falls have been used as a chronometer as

PSM V49 D014 View of niagara falls by father hennepin.jpg
Fig. 1.—Facsimile of a View of Niagara Falls by Father Hennepin.

frequently as any other natural phenomenon, and indeed Niagara is perhaps the best measurer that we have. Even at an early date, when the antiquity of the earth was not a popular doctrine, Andrew Ellicott (in 1790) divided the length of the gorge by the supposed rate of recession of the falls, and assigned fifty-five thousand years as the age of the cataract. Forty years later Bakewell reduced the time to twelve thousand years, and a few years afterward Lyell's estimate of thirty-six thousand years became popular and remained so until about fifteen years ago. This method of dividing the length of the chasm by the rate of recession was correct as far as it went, but even the rate was not then known.

Method of Computing the Age of the Falls.—Many years