Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/547

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By Major C. E. DUTTON, U. S. A.

ONE of the commonest and perhaps the most impressive of natural phenomena, the volcano, has hitherto been without any explanation of its cause, though it has been before the world a subject of theory for many centuries. The reason for this is quite apparent. We perceive the action of the volcano upon the surface and we know what it does. But the theater of its origin and the development of its energy are far below the surface of the ground, out of reach of inspection or direct observation. Human ingenuity has been baffled in its efforts to explain the phenomenon because of the want of observed facts and the impossibility of obtaining them. But while we are, and probably always shall be, unable to directly inspect the seat of origin of the volcano, there are certain inferences in connection with them which have attained a degree of probability which entitles us to use them as facts which may limit speculation and confine it within very narrow boundaries. I purpose to mention these inferences in order to see the general nature of the solution to which they point; for unless I am greatly mistaken, they will show us that we are close upon the verge of a solution.

1. The first fact to be mentioned is the solidity of the earth. It is so well known that I shall not dwell upon it and merely mention it in order to bring it, together with other facts, into the same series or group.

2. The second fact is the comparative smallness of the extravasated masses in any single volcanic eruption. In order to obtain an idea of the relative magnitude of an erupted mass, let us draw upon a true scale a segment of one degree of the earth's surface, of an arbitrary thickness—say thirty miles. Upon this segment draw the profile of Vesuvius. About a mile below the surface, beneath the volcano, draw the reservoir of lava, having the same mass as the volcano itself. It may have any thickness and any form, and is subject only to the condition that the capacity of it is the same as the mass of the erupted material. Now Vesuvius is built of I know not how many individual eruptions, but let us say one hundred, though I presume that there were, in reality, very many more. A single average eruption would be the hundredth part of the volume of this reservoir. But there are eruptions known which are many times greater than the average of those of Vesuvius. The largest known in the United States are in