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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/359

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349
RHYTHMS AND GEOLOGIC TIME.

It is quite conceivable that the bottom of a quiet bay may receive at each tide a thin deposit of mud which could be distinguished in the resulting rock as a papery layer or lamina. If one could in some way identify a rock thus formed, he might learn how many half-days its making required by counting its laminas, just as the years of a tree's age are learned by counting its rings of growth.

The next imposed rhythm of geologic importance is the year. There are rivers, like the Nile, having but one notable flood in each year, and so depositing annual layers of sediment on their alluvial plains and on the sea beds near their mouths. Where oceanic currents are annually reversed by monsoons, sedimentation may be regularly varied, or interrupted, once a year. Streams from a glacier cease to run in winter, and this annual interruption may give a definite structure to resulting deposits. It is therefore probable that some of the laminae or strata of rocks represent years, but the circumstances are rarely such that the investigator can bar out the possibility that part of the markings or separations were caused by original rhythms of unknown period.

The number of rhythms existing in the solar system is very large, but there are only two, in addition to the two just mentioned, which seem competent to write themselves in a legible way in the geologic record. These are the rhythms of precession and eccentricity.

Because the earth's orbit is not quite circular and the sun's position is a little out of the center, or eccentric, the two hemispheres into which the earth is divided by the equator do not receive their heat in the same way. The northern summer, or the period during which the northern hemisphere is inclined toward the sun, occurs when the earth is farthest from the sun, and the northern winter occurs when the earth is nearest to the sun, or in that part of the orbit called perihelion. These relations are exactly reversed for the southern hemisphere. The general effect of this is that the southern summer is hotter than the northern, and the southern winter is colder than the northern. In the southern part of the planet there is more contrast between summer and winter than in the northern. The sun sends to each half the same total quantity of heat in the course of a year, but the difference in distribution makes the climates different. The physics of the atmosphere is so intricate a subject that meteorologists are not fully agreed as to the theoretic consequences of these differences of solar heating, but it is generally believed that they are important, involving differences in the force of the winds, in the velocity and course of ocean currents, in vegetation, and in the extent of glaciers.

Now, the point of interest in the present connection is that the astronomic relations which occasion these peculiarities are not constant, but undergo a slow periodic change. The relation of the seasons to the orbit is gradually shifting, so that each season in turn coincides with