Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/362

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

fusion with the tidal and annual because its period is so much longer, being more than 2,000 times that of the annual. It has an eminently practical and convenient magnitude, in that its physical manifestation is well above the microscopic plane, and yet not so large as to prevent the frequent bringing of several examples into a single view. It is also practically regular in period, rarely deviating from the average length by more than the tenth part.

From the greater number of original rhythms it is distinguished, just as from the annual and tidal, by magnitude. The practical geologist would never confuse the deposit occasioned by a single storm, for example, with the sediments accumulated during an astronomic cycle of 20,000 years. But there are other original rhythms, known or surmised, which might have magnitudes of the same general order, and to discriminate the precessional from these it is necessary to employ other characters. Such characters are found in its regularity or evenness of period, and in its practical perpetuity. The diversion of the mouth of a great river such as the Hoang Ho or the Mississippi might recur only after long intervals; but from what we know of the behavior of smaller streams we may be sure that such events would be very irregular in time as well as in other ways. The intervals between volcanic eruptions at a particular vent or in a particular district may at times amount to thousands of years, but their irregularity is a characteristic feature. The same is true of the recurrent uplifts by which mountains grow, so far as we may judge them by the related phenomena of earthquakes; and the same category would seem to hold also the theoretically recurrent collapse of the globe under the strains arising from the slowing of rotation. The carbon-dioxide rhythm, known as yet only in the field of hypothesis, is hypothetically a running-down oscillation, like the lessening sway of the cradle when the push is no longer given.

But the precessional motion pulses steadily on through the ages, like the swing of a frictionless pendulum. Its throb may or may not be caught by the geologic process which obtains in a particular province and in a particular era, but whenever the conditions are favorable and the connection is made, the record should reflect the persistence and the regularity of the inciting rhythm.

The search of the rocks for records of the ticks of the precessional clock is an out-of-door work. Pursued as a closet study it could have no satisfactory outcome, because the printed descriptions of rock sequences are not sufficiently complete for the purpose; and the closet study of geology is peculiarly exposed to the perils of hobby-riding. A student of the time problem cannot be sure of a persistent, equable sedimentary rhythm without direct observation of the characters of the repeated layers. He needs to avail himself of every opportunity to study the series in its horizontal extent, and he should view the local problem