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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/479

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461
THE SCIENCE OF OBSERVATION.

be made up of exactly the same minerals as the dense rock below, but we notice that the mica and pyroxene are rusty and that the feldspar is stained yellowish brown. The pyroxene in particular is very much changed, and quickly crumbles away in the hand. It is clear that there is every stage between the solid rock, and the incoherent powder at the surface of the ground. The joint planes crossing the solid rock below may still be observed traversing the decayed portion, and also many rounded areas of rock, which are seen to be identical with the stone at the bottom of the quarry.[1]

How shall the facts before us be explained? It has been shown that the dense rock and the loose material are the same mineralogically, and grade from one into the other, and it is certainly rational to suppose that the latter is merely a changed form of the first. Some force must have been at work on the solid rock, destroying its coherency and converting it into loose sand. If we inspect the powdered rock, it will become apparent that this change has been brought about mainly by the process of weathering: surface water, with its ever-present acid impurities, has brought about the partial decay of the pyroxene and mica and caused the disintegration of the upper part of the rock. Water has not only attacked the rock from the upper surface, but has penetrated to considerable depths along the joint planes, working inward toward the center of each block until the mass becomes completely disintegrated. This process explains the concentric shells about cores of unaltered rock, each representing original joint blocks, which are seen in the second photograph. All our excursions into the field will show that this is not an isolated case, for wherever a ledge is exposed to our view there will be found a zone of weathered rock, varying in thickness from mere films to many feet.

By this process the greatest part of the materials constituting soils is formed, and the flora and fauna of the earth are rendered possible. Upon such products of decay the food supply of running water manifestly depends in a large measure, as will be pointed out on our next excursion; and were the scope of this article somewhat larger, it would be easy to show that the rock decay seen in our photograph has taken place in a length of time measured by something like ten thousand years. If all rock decayed as easily, and if the rate of decomposition, as determined here, held good for great distances from the surface, mountains two miles in height would become a prey to


  1. This photograph represents a more detailed view of the quarry wall seen in Fig. 1. The relation of the two views will be understood by observing the positions of the hammers, which are in the same place in both photographs. These photographs, as well as some of the others that follow, were taken by Mr. John L. Gardner, 2d, for the purpose of illustrating these pages.