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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/353

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RHYTHMS AND GEOLOGIC TIME.

in turn springs from the turning of the earth in relation to the shining sun. The yearly rhythm of sowing and harvesting, of the fan and the furnace, does not originate with man, but is imposed on him by the rhythm of the seasons, and that in turn springs, from certain motions of the earth in relation to the glowing sun. But the rhythm of the generation and the rhythm of the dynasty have origin in the nature of man himself. The rhythms of human chronology may thus be grouped according to source in two classes, the imposed and the original; and the same distinction holds for other rhythms. The lunar day is an original rhythm of the earth as seen from the moon; the ground swell is an original rhythm of the ocean; but the tide is an imposed rhythm of the ocean, being derived from the lunar day. The swing of the pendulum is an original rhythm, but the regular excursion of the chronograph pen, being caused by the swing of the pendulum, is an imposed rhythm.

In giving brief consideration to each of the more important ways by which the problem of the earth's age has been approached, I shall mention first those which follow the action of some continuous process, and afterward those which depend on the recognition of rhythms.

The earliest computations of geologic time, as well as the majority of all such computations, have followed the line of the most familiar and fundamental of geologic processes. All through the ages the rains, the rivers and the waves have been eating away the land, and the product of their gnawing has been received by the sea and spread out in layers of sediment. These layers have been hardened into rocky strata, and from time to time portions have been upraised and made part of the land. The record they contain makes the chief part of geologic history, and the groups into which they are divided correspond to the ages and periods of that history. In order to make use of these old sediments as measures of time it is necessary to know either their thickness or their volume, and also the rate at which they were laid down. As the actual process of sedimentation is concealed from view, advantage is taken of the fact that the whole quantity deposited in a year is exactly equalled by the whole quantity washed from the land in the same time, and measurements and estimates are made of the amounts brought to the sea by rivers and torn from the cliffs of the shore by waves. After an estimate has been obtained of the total annual sedimentation at the present time, it is necessary to assume either that the average rate in past ages has been the same or that it has differed in some definite way.

At this point the course of procedure divides. The computer may consider the aggregate amount of the sedimentary rocks, irrespective of their subdivisions, or he may consider the thicknesses of the various groups as exhibited in different localities. If he views the rocks col-