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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/567

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But it would be strange, indeed, if the cold of the Glacial epoch should be absolutely unique. Attention was soon called to similar marks in rocks of other geological periods, especially in the Permian of the southern hemisphere. This opened up the general question of geological climates and their causes.

Perhaps no subject connected with the physics of the earth is more obscure and difficult than this. The facts, as far as we know them, are briefly as follows: (1) All the evidence we have point to a high, even an ultra-tropical, climate in early geological times; (2) all the evidence points to a uniform distribution of this early high temperature, so that the zonal arrangement of temperatures, such as characterizes present climates, did not then exist; (3) temperature zones were apparently first introduced in the late Mesozoic (Cretaceous) or early Tertiary times, and during the Tertiary the colder zones were successively added, until at the end there was formed a polar ice-cap as now.

Thus far all might be explained by progressive cooling of the earth and progressive clearing of the atmosphere of its excess CO2 and aqueous vapor. But (4) from time to time (i.e., at critical periods) there occurred great oscillations of temperature, the last and probably the greatest of these being the Glacial period. The cause of these great oscillations of temperature, and especially the cause of the glacial climate, is one of the most interesting and yet one of the obscurest and therefore one of most hotly disputed points in geology. Indeed, the subject has entered into the region of almost profitless discussion. We must wait for further light and for another century. Only one remark seems called for here. It is in accordance with a true scientific method that we should exhaust terrestrial causes before we resort to cosmical. The most usual terrestrial cause invoked is the oscillation of the earth's crust. But recently Chamberlin, in a most suggestive paper[1], has invoked oscillations in the composition of the atmosphere, especially in its proportion of CO2, as the immediate cause, although this in turn is due to oscillations of the earth's crust.



Heretofore the geological history of the earth has been studied only in the record of stratified rocks and their contained fossils. But in every place there have been land-periods in which, of course, erosion took the place of sedimentation. This kind of record is very imperfect, because there are no fossils. Until recently no account was taken of these erosion-periods except as

  1. Journal of Geology, vol. vi, p. 597, 1898, and vol. vii, p. 545, 1899.