Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/August 1873/The Problems of the Deep Sea
|THE PROBLEMS OF THE DEEP SEA.|
By Prof. T. H. HUXLEY, LL. D., F. R. S.
ON the 21st of December, 1872, H. M. S. Challenger, an eighteen-gun corvette, of 2,000 tons burden, sailed from Portsmouth harbor for a three, or perhaps four, years' cruise. No man-of war ever left that famous port before with so singular an equipment. Two of the eighteen sixty-eight pounders of the Challenger's armament remained to enable her to speak with effect to sea-rovers, haply devoid of any respect for science, in the remote seas for which she is bound; but the main-deck was, for the most part, stripped of its warlike gear, and fitted up with physical, chemical, and biological laboratories; photography had its dark cabin; while apparatus for dredging, trawling, and sounding; for photometers and for thermometers, filled the space formerly occupied by guns and gun-tackle, pistols and cutlasses.
The crew of the Challenger match her fittings. Captain Nares, his officers and men, are ready to look after the interests of hydrography, work the ship, and, if need be, fight her as seamen should; while there is a staff of scientific civilians, under the general direction of Dr. Wyville Thomson, F. R. S. (Professor of Natural History in Edinburgh University by rights, but at present detached for duty in partibus), whose business it is to turn all the wonderfully-packed stores of appliances to account, and to accumulate, before the ship returns to England, such additions to natural knowledge as shall justify the labor and cost involved in the fitting out and maintenance of the expedition.
Under the able and zealous superintendence of the hydrographer, Admiral Richards, every precaution which experience and forethought could devise has been taken to provide the expedition with the material conditions of success; and it would seem as if nothing short of wreck or pestilence, both most improbable contingencies, could prevent the Challenger from doing splendid work, and opening up a new era in the history of scientific voyages.
The dispatch of this expedition is the culmination of a series of such enterprises, gradually increasing in magnitude and importance, which the Admiralty, greatly to its credit, has carried out for some years past; and the history of which is given by Dr. Wyville Thomson in the beautifully-illustrated volume entitled "The Depths of the Sea," published since his departure:
Plain men may be puzzled to understand why Dr. Wyville Thomson, not being a cynic, should relegate the "Land of Promise" to the bottom of the deep sea; they may still more wonder what manner of "milk and honey" the Challenger expects to find; and their perplexity may well rise to its maximum, when they seek to divine the manner in which that milk and honey are to be got out of so inaccessible a Canaan. I will, therefore, endeavor to give some answer to these questions in an order the reverse of that in which I have stated them.
Apart from hooks, and lines, and ordinary nets, fishermen have, from time immemorial, made use of two kinds of implements for getting at sea-creatures which live beyond tide-marks—these are the "dredge" and the "trawl." The dredge is used by oyster-fishermen. Imagine a large bag, the mouth of which has the shape of an elongated parallelogram, and is fastened to an iron frame of the same shape, the two long sides of this rim being fashioned into scrapers. Chains attach the ends of the frame to a stout rope, so that when the bag is dragged along by the rope, the edge of one of the scrapers rests on the ground, and scrapes whatever it touches into the bag. The oyster-dredger takes one of these machines in his boat, and when he has reached the oyster-bed the dredge is tossed overboard; as soon as it has sunk to the bottom, the rope is paid out sufficiently to prevent it from pulling the dredge directly upward, and is then made fast while the boat goes ahead. The dredge is thus dragged along and scrapes oysters and other sea-animals and plants, stones, and mud into the bag. When the dredger judges it to be full he hauls it up, picks out the oysters, throws the rest overboard, and begins again.
Dredging in shallow water, say ten to twenty fathoms, is an easy operation enough; but the deeper the dredger goes, the heavier must be his vessel, and the stouter his tackle, while the operation of hauling up becomes more and more laborious. Dredging in 150 fathoms is very hard work, if it has to be carried on by manual labor; but by the use of the donkey-engine to supply power, and of the contrivances known as "accumulators," to diminish the risk of snapping the dredge-rope by the rolling and pitching of the vessel, the dredge has been worked deeper and deeper, until at last, on the 22d of July, 1869, H. M. S. Porcupine being in the Bay of Biscay, Captain Calver, her commander, performed the unprecedented feat of dredging in 2,435 fathoms, or 14,610 feet, a depth nearly equal to the height of Mont Blanc. The dredge "was rapidly hauled on deck at one o'clock in the morning of the 23d, after an absence of 7¼ hours, and a journey of upward of eight statute miles," with a hundred-weight and a half of solid contents.
The trawl is a sort of net for catching those fish which habitually live at the bottom of the sea, such as soles, plaice, turbot, and gurnett. The mouth of the net may be thirty or forty feet wide, and one edge of its mouth is fastened to a beam of wood of the same length. The two ends of the beam are supported by curved pieces of iron, which raise the beam and the edge of the net which is fastened to it, for a short distance, while the other edge of the mouth of the net trails upon the ground. The closed end of the net has the form of a great pouch; and, as the beam is dragged along, the fish, roused from the bottom by the sweeping of the net, readily pass into its mouth and accumulate in the pouch at its end. After drifting with the tide for six or seven hours the trawl is hauled up, the marketable fish are picked out, the others thrown away, and the trawl sent overboard for another operation.
More than a thousand sail of well-found trawlers are constantly engaged in sweeping the seas around our coast in this way, and it is to them that we owe a very large proportion of our supply of fish. The difficulty of trawling, like that of dredging, rapidly increases with the depth at which the operation is performed; and, until the other day, it is probable that trawling at so great a depth as 100 fathoms was something unheard of. But the first news from the Challenger opens up new possibilities for the trawl.
Dr. Wyville Thomson writes (Nature, March 20, 1873):
"For the first two or three hauls in very deep water off the coast of Portugal, the dredge came up filled with the usual 'Atlantic ooze,' tenacious and uniform throughout, and the work of hours, in sifting, gave the very smallest possible result. "We were extremely anxious to get some idea of the general character of the Fauna, and particularly of the distribution of the higher groups; and, after various suggestions for modification of the dredge, it was proposed to try the ordinary trawl. "We had a compact trawl, with a 15-feet beam, on hoard, and we sent it down off Cape St. Vincent at a depth of 600 fathoms. The experiment looked hazardous, but, to our great satisfaction, the trawl came up all right, and contained, with many of the larger invertebrata, several fishes. . . . After the first attempt we tried the trawl several times at depths of 1,090, 1,525, and, finally, 2,125 fathoms, and always with success."
To the coral-fishers of the Mediterranean, who seek the precious red coral, which grows firmly fixed to rocks at a depth of sixty to eighty fathoms, both the dredge and the trawl would be useless. They, therefore, have recourse to a sort of frame, to which are fastened long bundles of loosely-netted hempen cord, and which is lowered by a rope to the depth at which the hempen cords can sweep over the surface of the rocks and break off the coral, which is brought up entangled in the cords. A similar contrivance has arisen out of the necessities of deep-sea exploration.
In the course of the dredging of the Porcupine, it was frequently found that, while few objects of interest were brought up within the dredge, many living creatures came up sticking to the outside of the dredge-bag, and even to the first few fathoms of the dredge-rope. The mouth of the dredge doubtless rapidly filled with mud, and thus the things it should have brought up were shut out. To remedy this inconvenience Captain Calver devised an arrangement not unlike that employed by the coral-fishers. He fastened half a dozen swabs, such as are used for drying decks, to the dredge. A swab is something like what a birch-broom would be if its twigs were made of long, coarse hempen yarns. These dragged along after the dredge over the surface of the mud, and entangled the creatures living there—multitudes of which, twisted up in the strands of the swabs, were brought to the surface with the dredge. A further improvement was made by attaching a long iron bar to the bottom of the dredge-bag, and fastening large bunches of teased-out hemp to the end of this bar. These "tangles" brought up immense quantities of such animals as have long arms, or spines, or prominences which readily become caught in the hemp, but they are very destructive to the fragile organisms which they imprison; and, now that the trawl can be successfully worked at the greatest depths, it may be expected to supersede them; at least, wherever the ground is soft enough to permit of trawling.
It is obvious that between the dredge, the trawl, and the tangles, there is little chance for any organism, except such as are able to burrow rapidly, to remain safely at the bottom of any part of the sea which the Challenger undertakes to explore. And, for the first time in the history of scientific exploration, we have a fair chance of learning what the population of the depths of the sea is like in the most widely-different parts of the world.
And now arises the next question. The means of exploration being fairly adequate, what forms of life may be looked for at these vast depths?
The systematic study of the Distribution of living beings is the most modern branch of Biological Science, and came into existence long after Morphology and Physiology had attained a considerable development. This naturally does not imply that, from the time men began to observe natural phenomena, they were ignorant of the fact that the animals and plants of one part of the world are different from those in other regions; or that those of the hills are different from those of the plains in the same region; or, finally, that some marine creatures are found only in the shallows, while others inhabit the deeps. Nevertheless, it was only after the discovery of America that the attention of naturalists was powerfully drawn to the wonderful differences between the animal population of the central and southern parts of the New World and that of those parts of the Old World which lie under the same parallels of latitude. So far back as 1667 Abraham Mylius, in his treatise "De Animalium origine et migratione populorum" argues that, since there are innumerable species of animals in America which do not exist elsewhere, they must have been made and placed there by the Deity: Buffon no less forcibly insists upon the difference between the Fauna? of the Old and New World. But the first attempt to gather facts of this order into a whole, and to coordinate them into a series of generalizations, or laws of Geographical Distribution, is not a century old, and is contained in the "Specimen Zoologiæ Geographicæ Quadrupedum Domicilia et Migrationes sistens," published, in 1777, by the learned Brunswick professor, Eberhard Zimmermann, who illustrates his work by what he calls a "Tabula Zoographica," which is the oldest distributional map known to me.
In regard to matters of fact, Zimmermann's chief aim is to show that, among terrestrial mammals, some occur all over the world, while others are restricted to particular areas of greater or smaller extent; and that the abundance of species follows temperature, being greatest in warm and least in cold climates. But marine animals, he thinks, obey no such law. The Arctic and Atlantic Seas, he says, are as full of fishes and other animals as those of the tropics. It is, therefore, clear that cold does not affect the dwellers in the sea as it does land animals, and that this must be the case follows from the fact that seawater, "propter varias quas continet bituminis spiritusque particulas," freezes with much more difficulty than fresh water. On the other hand, the heat of the Equatorial sun penetrates but a short distance below the surface of the ocean. Moreover, according to Zimmermann, the incessant disturbance of the mass of the sea, by winds and tides, so mixes up the warm and the cold that life is evenly diffused and abundant throughout the ocean.
In 1810, Risso, in his work on the Ichthyology of Nice, laid the foundation of what has since been termed "bathymetrical" distribution, or distribution in depth, by showing that regions of the sea-bottom of different depths could be distinguished by the fishes which inhabit them. There was the littoral region between tide-marks with its sand-eels, pipe-fishes, and blennies; the sea-weed region, extending from low water-mark to a depth of 450 feet, with its wrasses, rays, and flat-fish; and the deep-sea region, from 450 feet to 1,500 feet or more, with its file-fish, sharks, gurnards, cod, and sword-fish.
More than twenty years later, MM. Audouin and Milne Edwards carried out the principle of distinguishing the Faunae of different zones of depth much more minutely, in their "Recherches pour servir à l'Histoire Naturelle du Littoral de la France," published in 1832.
They divide the area included between high-water mark and low-water mark of spring tides (which is very extensive, on account of the great rise and fall of the tide on the Normandy coast about St. Malo, where the observations were made) into four zones, each characterized by its peculiar invertebrate inhabitants. Beyond the fourth region they distinguish a fifth, which is never uncovered, and is inhabited by oysters, scallops, and large starfishes and other animals. Beyond this they seem to think that animal life is absent.
Audouin and Milne Edwards were the first to see the importance of the bearing of a knowledge of the manner in which marine animals are distributed in depth, on geology. They suggest that, by this means, it will be possible to judge whether a fossiliferous stratum was formed upon the shore of an ancient sea, and even to determine whether it was deposited in shallower or deeper water on that shore; the association of shells or animals which live in different zones of depth will prove that the shells have been transported into the position in which they are found; while, on the other hand, the absence of shells in a deposit will not justify the conclusion that the waters in which it was formed were devoid of animal inhabitants, inasmuch as they might have been only too deep for habitation.
The new line of investigation thus opened by the French naturalists was followed up by the Norwegian, Sars, in 1835, by Edward Forbes, in our own country, in 1840, and by Œrsted, in Denmark, a few years later. The genius of Forbes, combined with his extensive knowledge of botany, invertebrate zoology, and geology, enabled him to do more than any of his compeers in bringing the importance of distribution in depth into notice; and his researches in the Ægean Sea, and still more his remarkable paper "On the Geological Relations of the Existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles," published in 1846, in the first volume of the "Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain," attracted universal attention.
On the coasts of the British Islands, Forbes distinguishes four zones or regions, the Littoral (between tide-marks), the Laminarian (between low-water mark and 15 fathoms), the Coralline (from 15 to 50 fathoms), and the Deep sea or Coral region (from 50 fathoms to beyond 100 fathoms). But, in the deeper waters of the Ægean Sea, between the shore and a depth of 300 fathoms, Forbes was able to make out no fewer than eight zones of life, in the course of which the number and variety of forms gradually diminished; until, beyond 300 fathoms, life disappeared altogther. Hence it appeared as if descent in the sea had much the same effect on life as ascent on land. Recent investigations appear to show that Forbes was right enough in his classification of the facts of distribution in depth as they are to be observed in the Ægean; and though, at the time he wrote, one or two observations were extant which might have warned him not to generalize too extensively from his Ægean experience, his own dredging-work was so much more extensive and systematic than that of any other naturalist, that it is not wonderful he should have felt justified in building upon it. Nevertheless, so far as the limit of the range of life in depth goes, Forbes's conclusion has been completely negatived, and the greatest depths yet attained show not even an approach to a "zero of life:"
"During the several cruises of H. M. ships Lightning and Porcupine in the years 1868, 1869, and 1870," says Dr. Wyville Thomson, "fifty-seven hauls of the dredge were taken in the Atlantic at depths beyond 500 fathoms, and sixteen at depths beyond 1,000 fathoms, and, in all cases, life was abundant. In 1869 we took two casts in depths greater than 2,000 fathoms. In both of these life was abundant; and with the deepest cast, 2,435 fathoms, off the mouth of the Bay of Biscay, we took living, well-marked, and characteristic examples of all the five invertebrate sub-kingdoms. And thus the question of the existence of abundant animal life at the bottom of the sea has been finally settled and for all depths, for there is no reason to suppose that the depth anywhere exceeds between three and four thousand fathoms; and, if there be nothing in the conditions of a depth of 2,500 fathoms to prevent the full development of a varied Fauna, it is impossible to suppose that even an additional thousand fathoms would make any great difference."
As Dr. Wyville Thomson's recent letter, cited above, shows, the use of the trawl, at great depths, has brought to light a still greater diversity of life. Fishes came up from a depth of 600 to more than 1,000 fathoms, all "in a peculiar condition from the expansion of the air contained in their bodies. On this relief from the extreme pressure, their eyes, especially, had a singular appearance, protruding like great globes from their heads." Bivalve and univalve mollusca seem to be rare at the greatest depths; but star-fishes, sea-urchins, and other echinoderms, zoophytes, sponges, and protozoa, abound.
It is obvious that the Challenger has the privilege of opening a new chapter in the history of the living world. She cannot send down her dredges and her trawls into these virgin depths of the great ocean without bringing up a discovery. Even though the thing itself may be neither "rich nor rare," the fact that it came from that depth, in that particular latitude and longitude, will be a new fact in distribution, and, as such, have a certain importance.
But it may be confidently assumed that the things brought up will very frequently be zoological novelties; or, better still, zoological antiquities, which in the tranquil and little-changed depths of the ocean have escaped the causes of destruction at work in the shallows, and represent the predominant population of a past age.
It has been seen that Audouin and Milne Edwards foresaw the general influence of the study of distribution in depth upon the interpretation of geological phenomena. Forbes connected the two orders of inquiry still more closely; and, in the thoughtful essay "On the Connection between the Distribution of the Existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles, and the Geological Changes which have affected their Area, especially during the Epoch of the Northern Drift," to which reference has already been made, he put forth a most pregnant suggestion.
In certain parts of the sea-bottom in the immediate vicinity of the British Islands, as in the Clyde district, among the Hebrides, in the Moray Firth, and in the German Ocean, there are depressed areoe, forming a kind of submarine valleys, the centres of which are from 80 to 100 fathoms, or more, deep. These depressions are inhabited by assemblages of marine animals, which differ from those found over the adjacent and shallower region, and resemble those which are met with much farther north, on the Norwegian coast. Forbes called these Scandinavian detachments "northern outliers."
How did these isolated patches of a northern population get into these deep places? To explain the mystery, Forbes called to mind the fact that, in the epoch which immediately preceded the present, the climate was much colder (whence the name of "glacial epoch" applied to it); and that the shells which are found fossil, or sub-fossil, in deposits of that age are precisely such as are now to be met with only in the Scandinavian or still more arctic regions. Undoubtedly, during the glacial epoch, the general population of our seas had, universally, the northern aspect which is now presented only by the "northern outliers," just as the vegetation of the land, down to the sea-level, had the northern character which is, at present, exhibited only by the plants which live on the tops of our mountains. But, as the glacial epoch passed away, and the present climatal conditions were developed, the northern plants were able to maintain themselves only on the bleak heights, on which southern forms could not compete with them. And, in like manner, Forbes suggested that, after the glacial epoch, the northern animals then inhabiting: the sea became restricted to the deeps in which they could hold their own against invaders from the south, better fitted than they to flourish in the warmer waters of the shallows. Thus depth in the sea corresponded, in its effect upon distribution, to height on the hind.
The same idea is applied to the explanation of a similar anomaly in the Fauna of the Ægean:
"In the deepest of the regions of depth of the Ægean, the representation of a northern Fauna is maintained, partly by identical and partly by representative forms.... The presence of the latter is essentially due to the law (of representation of parallels of latitude by zones of depth), while that of the former species depended on their transmission from their parent seas during a former epoch and subsequent isolation. That epoch was doubtless the newer Pliocene or Glacial Era, when the Mya truncata and other northern forms now extinct in the Mediterranean, and found fossil in the Sicilian tertiaries, ranged into that sea. The changes which there destroyed the shallow-water glacial forms, did not affect those living in the depths, and which still survive."
The conception that the inhabitants of local depressions of the sea-bottom might be a remnant of the ancient population of the area, which had held their own in these deep fastnesses against an invading Fauna, as Britons and Gaels have held out in Wales and in Scotland against encroaching Teutons, thus broached by Forbes, received a wider application than Forbes had dreamed of when the sounding machine first brought up specimens of the mud of the deep sea. As I have pointed out elsewhere, it at once became obvious that the calcareous, sticky mud of the Atlantic was made up, in the main, of shells of Globigerina and other Foraminifera, identical with those of which the true chalk is composed, and the identity extended even to the presence of those singular bodies, the coccoliths and, the true nature of which is not yet made out. Here, then, were organisms, as old as the Cretaceous epoch, still alive, and doing their work of rock-making at the bottom of existing seas. What if Globigerina and the coccoliths should not be the only survivors of a world passed away, which are hidden beneath three miles of salt-water? The letter which Dr. Wyville Thomson wrote to Dr. Carpenter in May, 1868, out of which all these expeditions have grown, shows that this query had become a practical problem in Dr. Thomson's mind at that time; and the desirableness of solving the problem is put in the foreground of his reasons for urging the government to undertake the work of exploration:
"Two years ago, M. Sars, Swedish Government Inspector of Fisheries, had an opportunity, in his official capacity, of dredging off the Loffoden Islands at a depth of 300 fathoms. I visited Norway shortly after his return, and had an opportunity of studying with his father, Prof. Sars, some of his results. Animal forms were abundant; many of them were new to science; and among them was one of surpassing interest, the small crinoid, of which you have a specimen, and which we at once recognized as a degraded type of the
Apiocrinidæ, an order hitherto regarded as extinct, which attained its maximum in the Pear Encrinites of the Jurassic period, and whose latest representative hitherto known was the Bourguettocrinus of the chalk. Some years previously, Mr. Absjörnsen, dredging in 200 fathoms in the Hardangerfjord, procured several examples of a star-tish (Brisinga), which seems to find its nearest ally in the fossil genus Protaster. These observations place it beyond a doubt that animal life is abundant in the ocean at depths varying from 200 to 300 fathoms, that the forms at these great depths differ greatly from those met with in ordinary dredgings, and that, at all events, in some cases, these animals are closely allied to, and would seem to be directly descended from, the Fauna of the early tertiaries.
"I think the latter result might almost have been anticipated; and, probably, further investigation will largely add to this class of data, and will give us an opportunity of testing our determinations of the zoological position of some fossil types by an examination of the soft parts of their recent representatives. The main cause of the destruction, the migration, and the extreme modification of animal types, appears to be change of climate, chiefly depending upon oscillations of the earth's crust. These oscillations do not appear to have ranged, in the northern portion of the Northern Hemisphere, much beyond 1,000 feet since the commencement of the Tertiary epoch. The temperature of deep waters seems to be constant for all latitudes at 39°, so that an immense area of the North Atlantic must have its conditions unaffected by tertiary or post-tertiary oscillations."
As we shall see, the assumption that the temperature of the deep sea is everywhere 39° Fahr. (4° Cent.) is an error, which Dr. Wyville Thomson adopted from eminent physical writers; but the general justice of the reasoning is not affected by this circumstance, and Dr. Thomson's expectation has been, to some extent, already verified. Thus, besides Globigerina, there are eighteen species of deep-sea Foraminifera identical with species found in the chalk.
Embedded in the chalky mud of the deep sea, in many localities, are innumerable cup-shaped sponges, provided with six-rayed silicious spicula, so disposed that the wall of the cup is formed of a lace-work of flinty thread. Not less abundant, in some parts of the chalk formation, are the fossils known as Ventriculites, well described by Dr. Thomson as "elegant vases or cups, with branching, root-like bases, or groups of regularly or irregularly spreading tubes delicately fretted on the surface with an impressed net-work like the finest lace;" and, he adds: "When we compare such recent forms as Aphrocallistes, Iphiteon, Holtenia, and Askonema, with certain series of the chalk Ventriculites, there cannot be the slightest doubt that they belong to the same family—in some cases to very nearly-allied genera."
Prof. Duncan finds "several corals from the coast of Portugal more nearly allied to chalk-forms than to any others."
The stalked crinoids, or feather-stars, so abundant in ancient times, are now exclusively confined to the deep sea, and the late explorations have yielded forms of old affinity, the existence of which has hitherto been unsuspected. The general character of the group of star-fishes embedded in the white chalk is almost the same as in the modern Fauna of the deep Atlantic. The sea-urchins of the deep sea, while none of them are specifically identical with any chalk-form, belong to the same general groups, and some closely approach extinct cretaceous genera.
Taking these facts in conjunction with the positive evidence of the existence, during the Cretaceous epoch, of a deep ocean where now lies the dry land of Central and Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Western and Southern Asia; and of the gradual diminution of this ocean during the older Tertiary epoch, until it is represented at the present day by such teacupfuls as the Caspian, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean; the supposition of Dr. Thomson and Dr. Carpenter that what is now the deep Atlantic was the deep Atlantic (though merged in a vast easterly extension) in the Cretaceous epoch, and that the Globigerina mud has been accumulating there from that time to this, seems to me to have a great degree of probability. And I agree with Dr. Wyville Thomson against Sir Charles Lyell (it takes two of us to have any chance against his authority) in demurring to the assertion that "to talk of chalk having been uninterruptedly formed in the Atlantic is as inadmissible in a geographical as in a geological sense."
If the word "chalk" is to be used as a stratigraphical term and restricted to Globigerina mud deposited during the Cretaceous epoch, of course it is improper to call the precisely similar mud of more recent date chalk. If, on the other hand, it is to be used as a mineralogical term, I do not see how the modern and the ancient chalks are to be separated; and, looking at the matter geographically, I see no reason to doubt that a boring-rod driven from the surface of the mud which forms the floor of the mid-Atlantic would pass through one continuous mass of Globigerina mud, first of modern, then of tertiary, and then of mesozoic date; the "chalks" of different depths and ages being distinguished merely by the different forms of other organisms associated with the Globigerinæ.
On the other hand, I think it must be admitted that a belief in the continuity of the modern with the ancient chalk has nothing to do with the proposition that we can, in any sense whatever, be said to be still living in the Cretaceous epoch. When the Challenger's trawl brings up an Ichthyosaurus, along with a few living specimens of Belemnites and Turrilites, it may be admitted that she has come upon a cretaceous "outlier;" but a geological period is characterized not only by the presence of those creatures which lived in it, but by the absence of those which have only come into existence later; and, however large a proportion of true cretaceous forms may be discovered in the deep sea, the modern types associated with them must be abolished before the Fauna, as a whole, could, with any propriety, be termed Cretaceous.
I have now indicated some of the chief lines of Biological inquiry, in which the Challenger has special opportunities for doing good service, and in following which she will be carrying out the work already commenced by the Lightning and Porcupine in their cruises of 1868 and subsequent years.
But biology, in the long-run, rests upon physics, and the first condition for arriving at a sound theory of distribution in the deep sea is, the precise ascertainment of the conditions of life; or, in other words, a full knowledge of all those phenomena which are embraced under the head of the "Physical Geography of the Ocean."
Excellent work has already been done in this direction, chiefly under the superintendence of Dr. Carpenter, by the Lightning and the Porcupine, and some data of fundamental importance to the physical geography of the sea have been fixed beyond a doubt.
Thus, though it is true that sea-water steadily contracts as it cools down to its freezing-point, instead of expanding before it reaches its freezing-point as fresh water does, the truth has been steadily ignored by even the highest authorities in physical geography, and the erroneous conclusions deduced from their erroneous premises have been widely accepted as if they were ascertained facts. Of course, if sea-water, like fresh water, were heaviest at a temperature of 39° Fahr., and got lighter as it approached 32°, the water of the bottom of the deep sea could not be colder than 39°. But one of the first results of the careful ascertainment of the temperature at different depths, by means of thermometers specially contrived for the avoidance of the errors produced by pressure, was the proof that, below 1,000 fathoms in the Atlantic, down to the greatest depths yet sounded, the water has a temperature yet lower than 38° Fahr., whatever be the temperature of the water at the surface. And that this low temperature of the deepest water is probably the universal rule for the depths of the open ocean is shown, among others, by Captain Chimmo's recent observations in the Indian Ocean, between Ceylon and Sumatra, where, the surface-water ranging from 85° to 81° Fahr., the temperature at the bottom, at a depth of 2,270 to 2,656 fathoms, was only from 34° to 32° Fahr.
As the mean temperature of the superficial layer of the crust of the earth may be taken at about 50° Fahr., it follows that the bottom layer of the deep sea in temperate and hot latitudes is, on the average, much colder than either of the bodies with which it is in contact; for the temperature of the earth is constant, while that of the air rarely falls so low as that of the bottom water in the latitudes in question; and, even when it does, has time to affect only a comparatively thin stratum of the surface-water before the return of warm weather.
How does this apparently anomalous state of things come about? If we suppose the globe to be covered with a universal ocean, it can hardly be doubted that the cold of the regions toward the poles must tend to cause the superficial water of those regions to contract and become specifically heavier. Under these circumstances, it would have no alternative but to descend and spread over the sea-bottom, while its place would be taken by warmer water drawn from the adjacent regions. Thus, deep, cold, polar-equatorial currents, and superficial, warmer, equatorial-polar currents, would be set up; and, as the former would have a less velocity of rotation from west to east than the regions toward which they travel, they would not be due southerly or northerly currents, but southwesterly in the Northern Hemisphere, and northwesterly in the Southern; while, by a parity of reasoning, the equatorial-polar warm currents would be northeasterly in the Northern Hemisphere, and southeasterly in the Southern. Hence, as a northeasterly current has the same direction as a southwesterly wind, the direction of the northern equatorial-polar current in the extratropical part of its course would pretty nearly coincide with that of the anti-trade winds. The freezing of the surface of the polar sea would not interfere with the movement thus set up. For, however bad a conductor of heat ice may be, the unfrozen sea-water immediately in contact with the under surface of the ice must needs be colder than that farther off; and hence will constantly tend to descend through the subjacent warmer water.
In this way it would seem inevitable that the surface-waters of the northern and southern frigid zones must, sooner or later, find their way to the bottom of the rest of the ocean; and there accumulate to a thickness dependent on the rate at which they absorb heat from the crust of the earth below, and from the surface-water above.
If this hypothesis be correct, it follows that, if any part of the ocean in warm latitudes is shut off from the influence of the cold polar underflow, the temperature of its deeps should be less cold than the temperature of corresponding depths in the open sea. Now, in the Mediterranean, Nature offers a remarkable experimental proof of just the kind needed. It is a land-locked sea which runs nearly east and west, between the twenty-ninth and forty-fifth parallels of north latitude. Roughly speaking, the average temperature of the air over it is 75° Fahr. in July, and 48° in January.
This great expanse of water is divided by the peninsula of Italy (including Sicily), continuous with which is a submarine elevation carrying less than 1,200 feet of water, which extends from Sicily to Cape Bon in Africa, into two great pools—an eastern and a western. The eastern pool rapidly deepens to more than 12,000 feet, and sends off to the north its comparatively shallow branches, the Adriatic and the Ægean Seas. The western pool is less deep, though it reaches some 10,000 feet. And, just as the western end of the eastern pool communicates by a shallow passage, not a sixth of its greatest depth, with the western pool, so the western pool is separated from the Atlantic by a ridge which runs between Capes Trafalgar and Spartel, on which there is hardly 1,000 feet of water. All the water of the Mediterranean which lies deeper than about 150 fathoms, therefore, is shut off from that of the Atlantic, and there is no communication between the cold layer of the Atlantic (below 1 ,000 fathoms) and the Mediterranean. Under these circumstances, what is the temperature of the Mediterranean? Everywhere below 600 feet it is about 55° Fahr.; and consequently, at its greatest depths, it is some 20° warmer than the corresponding depths of the Atlantic.
It seems extremely difficult to account for this difference in any other way than by adopting the view so strongly and ably advocated by Dr. Carpenter, that, in the existing distribution of land and water, such a circulation of the water of the ocean does actually occur, as theoretically must occur, in the universal ocean, with which we started.
It is quite another question, however, whether this theoretic circulation, true cause as it may be, is competent to give rise to such movements of sea-water, in mass, as those currents, which have commonly been regarded as northerly extensions of the Gulf Stream. I shall not venture to touch upon this complicated problem; but I may take occasion to remark that the cause of a much simpler phenomenon—the stream of Atlantic water which sets through the Straits of Gibraltar, eastward, at the rate of two or three miles an hour or more, does not seem to be so clearly made out as is desirable.
The facts appear to be that the water of the Mediterranean is very slightly denser than that of the Atlantic (1.0278 to 1.0265), and that the deep water of the Mediterranean is slightly denser than that of the surface; while the deep water of the Atlantic is, if any thing, lighter than that of the surface. Moreover, while a rapid superficial current is setting in (always, save in exceptionally violent easterly winds) through the Straits of Gibraltar, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, a deep under-current (together with. variable side-currents) is setting out through the Straits, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.
Dr. Carpenter adopts, without hesitation, the view that the cause of this indraught of Atlantic water is to be sought in the much more rapid evaporation which takes place from the surface of the Mediterranean than from that of the Atlantic; and thus, by lowering the level of the former, gives rise to an indraught from the latter.
But is there any sound foundation for the three assumptions involved here: Firstly, that the evaporation from the Mediterranean, as a whole, is much greater than that from the Atlantic under corresponding parallels; secondly, that the rainfall over the Mediterranean makes up for evaporation less than it does over the Atlantic; and thirdly, supposing these two questions answered affirmatively: Are not these sources of loss in the Mediterranean fully covered by the prodigious quantity of fresh water which is poured into it by great rivers and submarine springs? Consider that the water of the Ebro, the Rhine, the Po, the Danube, the Don, the Dnieper, and the Nile, all flow directly or indirectly into the Mediterranean; that the volume of fresh water which they pour into it is so enormous that fresh water may sometimes be baled up from the surface of the sea off the Delta of the Nile, while the land is not yet in sight; that the water of the Black Sea is half fresh, and that a current of three or four miles an hour constantly streams from it Mediterraneanward through the Bosporus; consider, in addition, that no fewer than ten submarine springs of fresh water are known to burst up in the Mediterranean, some of them so large that Admiral Smyth calls them "subterranean rivers of amazing volume and force;" and it would seem, on the face of the matter, that the sun must have enough to do to keep the level of the Mediterranean down; and that, possibly, we may have to seek for the cause of the small superiority in saline contents of the Mediterranean water in some condition other than solar evaporation.
Again, if the Gibraltar indraught is the effect of evaporation, why does it go on in winter as well as in summer?
All these are questions more easily asked than answered; but they must be answered before we can accept the Gibraltar stream as an example of a current produced by indraught, with any comfort.
The Mediterranean is not included in the Challenger's route, but she will visit one of the most promising and little explored of hydrographical regions—the North Pacific, between Polynesia and the Asiatic and American shores; and, doubtless, the store of observations upon the currents of this region, which she will accumulate, when compared with what we know of the North Atlantic, will throw a powerful light upon the present obscurity of the Gulf Stream problem.—Contemporary Review.
- "The Depths of the Sea," pp. 49, 50.
- The emotional side of the scientific nature has its singularities. Many persons will call to mind a certain philosopher's tenderness over his watch—"the little creature"—which was so singularly lost and found again. But Dr. Wyville Thomson surpasses the owner of the watch in his loving-kindness toward a donkey-engine. "This little engine was the comfort of our lives. Once or twice it was overstrained, and then we pitied the willing little thing, panting like an overtaxed horse."
- "Enfin plus bas encore, c'est-à-dire alors loin des côtes, le fond des eaux ne paraît plus être habité, du moins dans nos mers, par aucun de ces animaux" (l. c, tome i., p. 237). The "ces animaux" leaves the meaning of the authors doubtful.
- In the paper in the "Memoirs of the Survey" cited farther on, Forbes writes:
"In an essay 'On the Association of Mollusca on the British Coasts, considered with reference to Pleistocene Geology,' printed in the Edinburgh Academic Annual for 1840, I described the mollusca, as distributed on our shores and seas, in four great zones or regions, usually denominated 'The Littoral Zone,' 'The region of Laminariæ,' 'The region of Corallines,' and 'The region of Corals.' An extensive series of researches, chiefly conducted by the members of the committee appointed by the British Association to investigate the marine geology of Britain by means of the dredge, have not invalidated this classification, and the researches of Prof. Lovén, in the Norwegian and Lapland Seas, have borne out their correctness. The first two of the regions above mentioned had been previously noticed by Lamouroux, in his account of the distribution (vertically) of sea-weeds, by Audouin and Milne Edwards in their 'Observations on the Natural History of the Coast of France,' and by Sars in the prefaoe to his 'Beskrivelser og Jagttagelser.'"
- "The Depths of the Sea," p. 30. Results of a similar kind, obtained by previous observers, are stated at length in the sixth chapter, pp. 267-280. The dredgings carried out by Count Pourtales, under the authority of Prof. Peirce, the Superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, in the years 1867, 1868, and 1869, are particularly note-worthy, and it is probably nof. too much to say, in the words of Prof. Agassiz, "that we owe to the coast survey the first broad and comprehensive basis for an exploration of the sea-bottom on a large scale, opening a new era in zoological and geological research."
- "Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain," vol i, p. 390.
- "Lay Sermons," etc., "On a Piece of Chalk."
- "The Depths of the Sea," pp. 51, 52.
- Ibid., p. 484.
- "Proceedings of the Royal Society," 1870 and 1872.