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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/29

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NIAGARA AS A TIME PIECE.

Niagara Falls narrowly escaped Extinction.—Fifteen hundred years ago the terrestrial movements raised the Johnson barrier to the Erie basin so high that the waters of that lake reached not merely the level of Lake Michigan, but the point of turning all the water of the upper lakes into the Mississippi drainage by way of Chicago. But the falls were then cutting through the ridge, and when this was accomplished, before the change of drainage was completed, the surface of Lake Erie was suddenly lowered by many feet, and thus the falls were re-established for some time longer.

Death of the Falls.—Slowly, year by year, one sees the cataract wearing back and suggesting the time when the river will be turned into a series of rapids; but another silent cause is at work, and one not easily seen—namely, the effects of the changing of level of the earth's crust. From the computations already referred to it was found that for the first twenty-four thousand years of the life of the river only the Erie waters flowed by way of the Niagara River, and for only eight thousand years have all the waters of the upper lakes been feeding the falls. If the terrestrial movements continue as at present, and there appears no reason to doubt it, for the continent was formerly vastly higher than now, then in about five thousand years the rim of the Erie basin promises to be raised so high that all the waters of the upper lakes will flow out by way of the Chicago Canal. Thus the duration of Niagara Falls will have continued about thirty-seven thousand years. But the lakes will endure beyond the calculations of the boldest horologist.

Relation of the Falls to the Ice Age.—In telling of the times of the great mutations in the physical history of the lake region, the story of Niagara Falls seems completed, but as a timepiece they are much more important in being used as a stepping stone back to the great period of frost which separated the former order of the continent from the modern. Having ascertained the approximate amount of the rising of the land recorded in the deserted beaches, before and since the birth of Niagara Falls, and the rate of the rising of the land, and applying it to the movement recorded in the abandoned shores, it is concluded that the epoch when the lake region formed great expansions of more or less open water commenced fifty or sixty thousand years since. Going so far back in time, other conditions may have obtained to vary the rate, but these have been allowed for as far as possible.

Beyond the lake epoch the vicissitudes between the periods of great regional submergence and the earlier high continental elevation of the ice age proper are apparent, but the events are certainly unexplained, for what was done by glacial action and what by waves has not been determined. Niagara Falls