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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/354

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

lectively, as a total to be divided by the annual increment, his estimate of the total is founded primarily on direct measurements made at many places on the continents, but to the result of such measurements he must add a postulated amount for the rocks concealed by the ocean, and another postulated amount for the material which has been eroded from the land and deposited in the sea more than once.

If, on the other hand, he views each group of rocks by itself, and takes account of its thickness at some locality where it is well displayed, he must acquire in some way definite conceptions of the rates at which its component layers of sand, clay and limy mud were accumulated, or else he must postulate that its average rate of accretion bore some definite ratio to the present average rate of sedimentation for the whole ocean. This course is, on the whole, more difficult than the other, but it has yielded certain preliminary factors in which considerable confidence is felt. Whatever may have been the absolute rate of rock building in each locality, it is believed that a group of strata which exhibits great thickness in many places must represent more time than a group of similar strata which is everywhere thin, and that clays and marls, settling in quiet waters, are likely to represent, foot for foot, greater amounts of time than the coarser sediments gathered by strong currents; and studying the formations with regard to both thickness and texture, geologists have made out what are called time ratios—series of numbers expressing the relative lengths of the different ages, periods and epochs. Such estimates of ratios, when made by different persons, are found to vary much less than do the estimates of absolute time, and they will serve an excellent purpose whenever a satisfactory determination shall have been made of the duration of any one period.

Reade has varied the sedimentary method by restricting attention to the limestones, which have the peculiarity that their material is carried from the land in solution: and it is a point in favor of this procedure that the dissolved burdens of rivers are more easily measured than their burdens of clay and sand.

An independent system of time ratios has been founded on the principle of the evolution of life. Not all formations are equally supplied with fossils, but some of them contain voluminous records of contemporary life; and when account is taken of the amount of change from each full record to the next, the steps of the series are found to be of unequal magnitude. Though there is no method of precisely measuring the steps, even in a comparative way. it has yet been found possible to make approximate estimates, and these in the main lend support to the time ratios founded on sedimentation. They bring aid also at a point where the sedimentary data are weak, for the earliest formations arc hard to classify and measure. It is true that these same formations are almost barren of fossils, but biologic inference does not therefore stop.