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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/486

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468
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

example before us this fact is apparent, and affords the basis for another line of reasoning by which all such stratified deposits, however great their magnitude, are to be referred to the same source—namely, stream-transported materials derived from a decaying and wasting land surface, laid down in water under the influence of gravity.

We have now arrived at a most important and far-reaching generalization so far as the work performed by running water is concerned, and its action in filling our lakes and ponds; and we have learned by observation on a small scale the means by which such deposits may be recognized. Let us apply these means of recognition to the phenomena shown by our large rivers and the more enduring oceans into which they drain. In the same manner that we have studied the little pool and larger lake, we will look into the work done by the great waterways of our continents, selecting as a type of such streams the mighty Mississippi. Careful measurement has shown that this river annually transports two hundred million tons of sediment mechanically suspended. What becomes of this enormous quantity of sand and clay, equal to a cubic mile in a little over a century, as it is swept into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico? For this purpose we have only to visit the region about its mouth to become acquainted with the almost impotent struggles that have been made by our Government during the last fifty years in an effort to keep the river below New Orleans, in part at least, confined to its present channels; and to study the chart of that portion of the Gulf coast prepared by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (see Fig. 6). We have not forgotten the little lobes; their method of growth, and the general form of our first-seen delta, shown in Fig. 3. In viewing the phenomena at the mouth of the Mississippi, it is no longer necessary for our present purposes to make a detailed study, since it will become apparent at once that the river is doing the work on a larger scale typified by the performance of the tiny stream flowing into its temporary pool. In place of the little delta with its still smaller lobes, the Mississippi has deposited at its mouth an enormous delta, thousands of square miles in area, and its bifurcating arms may be seen building out several scallops for miles into the waters of the gulf. For centuries these long lobes have been building in advance of the delta front. The arms gradually become clogged with sediment, a new passage to the ocean is opened on the sides, where deposition will begin at a new point, producing a lobe as before. Situated many miles up the river, it is to-day the great fear of New Orleans that its only navigable arm to the sea will thus be closed to that commerce upon which the life of the city depends.

Only a portion of the sediment brought in by the river goes to form its delta; a large part of the finest material, such as clay, is