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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/568

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552
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

breaks of indefinite length in the record—as lost intervals. But now, and mainly through the work of American geologists, interpretation of these erosion-periods has fairly commenced, and so important has this new departure in the study of geology seemed to some that it has been hailed as a new era in geology, connecting it more closely with geography. Heretofore former land periods were recognized by unconformities and the amount of time by the degree of change in the fossils, but now the amount of time is estimated in existing land surfaces by topographic forms alone. This idea was introduced into geology by Major J. W. Powell, and has been applied with success by William Morris Davis, W J McGee, and others.

The principle is this: Land surface subject to erosion and standing still is finally cut down to gently sweeping curves, with low, rounded divides and broad, shallow troughs. Such a surface is called by Davis a Peneplain. Such a peneplain is characteristic of old topography. If such a surface be again lifted to higher level, the rivers again dissect it by ravines, which are deep and narrow in proportion to the amount and rate of the uplift. If the land again remains steady, the sharply dissected surface is again slowly smoothed out to the gentle curves of a peneplain. If, on the contrary, the surface be depressed, the rivers fill up the channels with sediment which, on re-elevation, is again dissected. Thus the whole ontogeny of land surfaces have been studied out, so that their age may be recognized at sight.

Thus, while heretofore the more recent movements of the crust were supposed to be readable only on coast lines and by means of the old sea strands, now we read with equal ease the movements of the interior by means of the physiognomy of the topography, and especially the structure of the river channels. Moreover, while heretofore the history of the earth was supposed to be recorded only in stratified rock and their contained fossils, now we find that recent history is recorded and may be read also in the general topography of the land surfaces. Geography is studied no longer as mere description of earth forms, but also as to the causes of these forms, no longer as to present forms, but also as to the history of their becoming. Thus geography, by its alliance with geology, has become a truly scientific study, and as such is now introduced into the colleges and universities. It is this alliance with geology which has caused the dry bones of geographic facts to live. It is this which has created a soul under the dry "ribs of this death." This mode of study of the history of the earth has just commenced. How much will come of it is yet to be shown in the next century.