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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/355

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RHYTHMS AND GEOLOGIC TIME.

The oldest known fauna, the Eocambrian, does not-represent the beginnings of life, but a well-advanced stage, characterized by development along many divergent lines; and by comparing Eocambrian life with existing life the paleontologist is able to make an estimate of the relative progress in evolution before and after the Eocambrian epoch. The only absolute blank left by the time ratios pertains to an azoic age which may have intervened between the development of a habitable earth crust and the actual beginning of life.

Erosion and deposition have been used also, in a variety of ways, to compute the length of very recent geologic epochs. Thus, from the accumulation of sand in beaches Andrews estimated the age of Lake Michigan, and Upham the age of the glacial lake Agassiz; and from the erosion of the Niagara gorge the age of the river flowing through it has been estimated. But while these discussions have yielded conceptions of the nature of geologic time, and have served to illustrate the extreme complexity of the conditions which affect its measurement, they have accomplished little toward the determination of the length of a geologic period; for they have pertained only to a small fraction of what geologists call a period, and that fraction was of a somewhat abnormal character.

Wholly independent avenues of approach are opened by the study of processes pertaining to the earth as a planet, and with these the name of Kelvin is prominently associated.

As the rotation of the earth causes the tides, and as the tides expend energy, the tides must act as a brake, checking the speed of rotation. Therefore the earth has in the past spun faster than now, and its rate of spinning at any remote point of time may be computed. Assuming that the whole globe is solid and rigid, and that the geologic record could not begin until that condition had been attained, there could not have been great checking of rotation since consolidation. For if there had been, it would have resulted in the gathering of the oceans about the poles and the baring of the land near the equator, a condition very different from what actually obtains. This line of reasoning yields an obscure outer limit to the age of the earth.

On the assumption that the globe lacks something of perfect rigidity, G. H. Darwin has traced back the history of the earth and the moon to an epoch when the two bodies were united, their separation having been followed by the gradual enlargement of the moon's orbit and the gradual retardation of the earth's rotation; and this line of inquiry has also yielded an obscure outer limit to the antiquity of the earth as a habitable globe.

One of the most elaborate of all the computations starts with the assumption that at an initial epoch, when the outer part of the earth was consolidated from a liquid condition, the whole body of the planet