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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/454

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

pressure with folding and bulging of the strata along the line of yielding, until the mountain emerges above the ocean and is added to the land as a coast range. This is mountain birth. (3) As soon as it appears above the water it is attacked by erosive agents. At first the rising by continuance of the crushing and bulging is in excess of the erosion, and the mountain grows. This is mountain youth. (4) Then supply and waste balance one another, and we have mountain maturity. (5) Then the erosive waste exceeds the growth by up-bulging, and mountain decay begins. (6) Finally, the erosive forces triumph and the mountain is clean swept away, leaving only the complexly folded rocks of enormous thickness to mark the place of a former mountain. This is mountain death. Such briefly is the life history of a mountain range.

In all this we have said nothing about causes. In this connection there are two points of especial importance: (1) Why does the yielding to lateral pressure take place along lines of thick sediments? (2) What is the cause of the lateral pressure?

1. Cause of Yielding to Lateral Pressure along Lines of Thick Sediments.—The earth was once very hot. It is still very hot within, and still very slowly cooling. If sediments accumulate upon a sea bottom the interior heat will tend to rise so as to keep at the same distance from the surface. If the sediments are very thick, say five to ten miles, their lower parts will be invaded by a temperature of not less than 500° to 1,000° F. This temperature, in the presence of water (the included water of the sediments), would be sufficient to produce softening or even fusion of the sediments and of the sea floor on which they rest. This would establish a line of weakness, and therefore a line of yielding, crushing, folding, bulging, and thus a mountain range. In the first formation of a range, therefore, there would necessarily be a sub-mountain mass of fused or semifused matter which by the lateral crushing might be squeezed into cracks or fissures, forming dikes. But in any case the sub-mountain mass would cool into a granite core which by erosion may be exposed along the crest. The explanation seems to be satisfactory.

2. Cause of the Lateral Pressure.—No question in geology has been more discussed than this, and yet none is more difficult and the solution of which is more uncertain. But the most obvious and as yet the most probable view is that it is the result of the secular contraction of the earth which has gone on throughout its whole history, and is still going on.

It is admitted by all that in an earth cooling from primal incandescence there must come a time when the surface, having become substantially cool and receiving heat also from the sun, would no