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Geology

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The Nineteenth Century has witnessed the nativity of geology. The momentous event was heralded in 1815 by the publication of William Smith's "Map of the Strata of England and Wales." This remarkable document has justly earned for its author, a simple land surveyor, the appellation of "the father of geology." It was the result of more than twenty years' mighty effort on the part of a man sadly handicapped by the necessity of earning his bread in the meantime. Apart from his pure, unselfish love of knowledge, the chief incentive that led William Smith to undertake this herculean task was his previous discovery of the two primary laws which were to form the nucleus of the new science. The first is the law of stratification, which recognizes that the rocks exposed on the earth's surface are portions of layers, and that these layers must rest successively on each other in the order of their antiquity. The second is that each stratum may be identified by its contained organic remains, which include both animal and plant fossils.

While the humble surveyor was pursuing his pilgrim-age among the rocky fastnesses of England and Wales, a bitter controversy was being carried on between the two schools of geologists then recognized in Europe the Neptunists and the Vulcanists. The Neptunists were the followers of Karl Werner, the eminent German professor of Freiberg. The Vulcanists owed allegiance to Dr. James Hutton, who died in 1797. The Neptunists advocated the production of rocks by aqueous deposition alone; Werner's theory being that "The earth had been originally covered with an ocean, in which the materials of the minerals were dissolved." In the course of time, through pressure, chemical precipitate and crystallization, the mountains emerged from this "chaotic fluid," and "on the retirement of the ocean, certain universal formations spread all over the globe, and assumed at the surface various irregular forms as they consolidated." The Vulcanists, on the contrary, refused to indulge in any such cosmological speculations, but insisted rather that Nature is her own interpreter. To account for the metamorphoses of which the earth's crust bore record, they cited the action of volcanoes and earthquakes, and of rivers and ocean, and appealed to all the processes of decay and renovation now at work. When the Geological Society of London was established in 1807, with the object of encouraging the collection of data and of recording observations, irrespective of theory, the foundations of the Huttonian school were materially strengthened, and with few exceptions all the great geologists down to the present day have been adherents of its doctrines.

The Vulcanists accounted for the origin of the earth' in this way : That the elementary parts of creation were diffused in the universe in the form of gas or vapor; the gases, having an affinity for each other, were attracted around a common central point, thereby forming an extensive gas globe, which later became ignited ; through the emission of heat, this igneous conglomeration gradually cooled off on its surface, which in time became hard and condensed. As the hot mass in the interior seethed and boiled, the crust was broken through from time to time, and empty spaces and great fissures were formed on the surface of the earth. The excrescences so formed were the primitive rocks, and are considered as the first stage in the formation of the earth's surface. The next stage is the period during which the water exercised its influence. The gases, still hanging about the earth in a thick, heavy mist, became gradually condensed as the cooling of the earth continued, and formed a great ocean that submerged the entire globe. The waters were boiling hot, and contained elements whose chemical action affected a part of the formation of the surface. Various deposits were made, and through the activity of the raging waters mountain chains formed themselves, and corresponding elevations and depressions took place. The cooling of the earth continued until the temperature sank so low that vegetation could form itself upon the earth. The climate was intensely hot, and spread itself equally over the entire surface, from the poles to the equator. First plants and then animals of an incredible size came forth luxuriantly and in the fullness of life. Then a frightful revolution took place. The shape of the earth surface was changed, and the splendid fauna and flora gradually diminished in pro-portions, and many of the species became totally extinct. At last the temperature sank so low that ice formed itself in various localities of the once tropical earth, which now emits no more heat than it absorbs from the sun.

The inception of the Geological Society may be said to have marked the beginning of the transition period between the epoch of hypothesis and the era of strict philosophical induction in which the geologists of the present day are trained. The society included in its membership some of the most brilliant men of the period, such as MacCulloch, Murchison, Lyell, Buckland, De la Beche, Fitton, Greenough, Conybeare, Francis Horner, Scrope, Warburton, Sedgwick, Wallaston, Whewell, and Mantell. Unlike William Smith, they were most of them in possession of independent fortunes and unfettered by the cares of the world. The laws of stratification, as set forth in William infinitely greater than was occupying William Smith in England. Alone and at his own expense he made a geological survey of the entire United States, a work which earned for him the name he has received of the "father of American geology." The work was one of many years' duration. He crossed the Allegheny Mountains fifty times, and visited almost every state and territory in the Union. He traced the great groups of strata then designated as the transition, secondary and alluvial, from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Lawrence. After an exhaustive exploration of our own country he went to Europe in order to recognize the corresponding formations of the other Continent, and in 1816 and 1817 he studied the formations of the Antilles.

About this time the importance of geological surveys, with the view of ascertaining the agricultural and mineral resources of large and unexplored regions, was beginning to be appreciated by the United States Government. The first geological survey made by state authority was that of North Carolina in 1824 and 1825, and the example was soon followed by more or less thorough surveys of the New England and Middle States, and later of the greater Mississippi valley and the Rockies. In 1841, shortly after the appearance of another great work, entitled "Elements of Geology," Lyell visited America, where he was received with great acclaim. Thirteen months were spent in the United States, Canada and Nova Scotia, during which time he worked hard as an observer and recorder. The science had meanwhile grown to gigantic proportions since he had issued the final installment of his "Principles," in 1833. The subordinate branches of geology were being studied with enthusiasm, and the importance of pale-ontology for chronological purposes had become recognized. It was now possible for the geologist to trace the changes which the earth's crust had undergone, and to describe in minute detail the character of the plant and animal life peculiar to each of the great epochs into which time had been divided.

The solving of the mystery of the coal formation was attended by the most marvelous revelations. The fossiliferous strata of the subcarboniferous age, bore mute testimony that the greater part of North America, Europe, and Great Britain had been submerged to a considerable depth under the sea, immediately preceding the coal-bearing period. Then there were gentle oscillations, and in time the Continents had uplifted themselves to the water's surface, and in this condition they had remained for a very great period of time. The interior of the North American Continent from Eastern Pennsylvania to Central Kansas was one vast jungle of luxuriant vegetation. The Green Mountains separated the New England and Nova Scotia areas from the marshes of Pennsylvania, and the Michigan coal area was an isolated marsh region. The plants and trees that flourished in these great marshes during the progress of the carboniferous age were of a luxuriance that has never been approached in any later period. The fossil remains found in coal beds indicate that palms, phenogams, or flowering trees, and conifers, or plants of the pine-tribe, attained a colossal size. It is impossible for the imagination to conceive of the gorgeousness that then clothed Mother Earth. There must have been great numbers of immense floating islands, carrying groves, in the inland seas that the marsh regions enclosed, and the warm humid atmosphere was no doubt heavy with the perfumes of myriad flowers of gigantic proportions.

When the plants and trees died their remains fell to the ground of the forest, and soon became decomposed into a black pasty mass, to which was added year by year the continual accumulation of fresh carbonaceous matter. Thus this process of decay and disintegration went on among the shed leaves and trees until a bed of uniform thickness would be formed over a wide area. The eras of verdure during which these plant beds were in progress were alternated by periods of inundation by salt water from the oceans, that destroyed all terrestrial life. The accumulations of thousands and thousands of years of vegetable growth and decay became covered up with de-posits of sediment. Then the continental surface, or wide portions of it, would again slowly emerge and a new era of verdure appear. Thus the alternations continued until all the successive coal beds were formed. The ever-increasing pressure of the accumulated strata above them compressed the sheddings of a whole forest into a thickness in some cases of a few inches of coal, and the action of the internal heat of the earth caused them to part, to a varying degree, with some of their component gases. The coniferous trees, such as the living larches, pines, firs, etc., gave rise for the most part to the mineral oils, their shed-dings having been subjected to a slow and continuous distillation, the oil so distilled accumulating in troughs in the strata, or finding its way to the surface in the shape of mineral oil springs. The nature and property of the coal to be formed depended upon the original substances of the living plant. One of the most remarkable things in connection with coal is the state of purity in which it is found. Owing to the fact that the forests must have abounded with streams and rivers, it is surprising that so little sediment found its way into the coal-beds. This puzzled the geologists until Sir Charles Lyell explained it. He noticed on one of his visits to America that the Mississippi River is highly charged with sediment where it flows through the cypress swamps, but that when it passes through the close undergrowth the sediment becomes precipitated, and the water filters through in an almost pure state. This accounts for the presence of thin "partings" of sandstone and shale which frequently occur in coal deposits.

The seas of the carboniferous age abounded in animal life, as is evidenced by the organic remains found in the alternating strata. Fishes and sharks of mammoth size inhabited the warm waters of the deep oceans and crinoids and corals, an infinite variety of articulates, crustaceans, and trilobites infested the more shallow salt water areas. The forest jungles teemed with insect life spiders, scorpions, centipedes, may-flies, cockroaches, and crickets. There were also numerous varieties of land snails. In this age reptiles make their appearance for the first time. Their footprints as impressed on the carbonaceous beds of Pennsylvania indicate that they were large animals and that they had tails, tail marks being discernible on the mud flats over which the reptiles marched. In the Nova Scotia coal measures fossils have been found of the sea-saurian, a species of reptile that had paddles like a whale. Before the last period of the carboniferous age had passed away, there were still higher reptiles those that lived on the land, but so far there is no indication that birds or mammals existed as early as this period. To account for the stupendous movements which must have happened in order to bring about the successive growths of forests one above the other, the geologist attributes them to the action of heat and to volcanic convulsions. At the close of the deposition of the carboniferous system of strata, there was unusual volcanic activity, as is evidenced by the frequent occurrence of what is known as faults.

A glance at any modern geological map shows the bountiful manner in which nature has laid out beds of coal upon the ancient surfaces of our earth, America alone containing no less than 196,660 square miles of coal-bearing territory.

More important even than the determination, of the coal-making processes, was the promulgation of the Glacial theory. In 1835 De Charpentier, a Swiss geologist, advanced the idea that the erratics and bowlder clays of his country had been deposited by glaciers at some remote period. This led all the geologists of Europe and America to investigate a question that had been puzzling scientists for a long time. In America and Europe, over the Northern latitudes, stones, gravel, and sand, as well as masses of rocks hundreds of tons in weight, are found as far as a hundred miles, and more south of the region where they were originally formed. The transported material was called drift, and the stones and bowlders were formerly claimed as proofs of the tumultous action of an universal deluge. In 1840 Agassiz, of Neuchâtel, in company with J. D. Forbes, noted as an expert in the physics of glacier ice, and W. Buckland, began a systematic study of the Alpine glaciers. Their gigantic task led to startling results. It seemed an impossibility for science to accept as a fact that nearly all of Europe and North America had been enveloped in a great ice sheet many miles in thickness, and in a comparatively recent period. That ages of tropical splendor should-have been succeeded by such frightful desolation was beyond all conception, but as the investigation proceeded the fact was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. A study of the topography of North America revealed the fact that an immense glacial deposit had embraced the whole Continent from Labrador and New Foundland to the western borders of Iowa, and even farther west, and that it extended southward to the parallel of 40 degrees. In Europe it extended down to 50 degrees, where the temperature corresponds to that of the parallel of 40 degrees in North America. The stupendous ice fields did not remain stationary, but in time began to trans-port themselves either in a southward, southeastward or southwestward direction. The highest mountains were no obstacle to their progress, and they moved over the great summits of the White Mountains and the Green Mountains as if they had been so many mole hills, and left as souvenirs of their visit bowlders picked up 200 miles north. The direction of transportation was determined by tracing the rocks and bowlders to those parts of the Continent where they were derived. Masses of native copper have been found in Indiana and Illinois that were transported from the Lake Superior region. From the Connecticut valley bowlders of red sandstone were carried to Long Island, and giant masses of rock have been found in the Mississippi valley 1,000 miles away from their native stratum. As reasoned by Agassiz, moving ice is the only known agent adequate for transportation on so vast a scale. The reason given for the uniformity of the direction of moving is the immutable law that a glacier moves in the direction of the slope of its upper surface. The snows being more abundant to the north during the glacial era, and the temperature being lower than at the south, the accumulation naturally became greater in the north; as a result, the movement would be southward. South America had its corresponding glacial era, transportation taking place in the direction of the equator. The cold of the era is attributed to the elevation and extension of Arctic lands and a corresponding increase in Arctic land-ice.

In 1862 Prof. A. Ramsay aroused a great controversy among geologists regarding this glacial theory. He claimed a new and novel effect for glaciers, and set forth his opinion in a paper read before the London Geological Society. The basins of the Alpine and various British lakes he attributed to the erosive action of ice, while his opponents held that the effect of ice is abrasive, not erosive. Although Ramsay's theory won many supporters among his contemporaries, it is generally rejected by the best geologists today.

The logical confirmation of the glacial theory added one more period to the history of the earth, which modern geology has now divided into four grand epochs Archaean time, Paleozoic time, Mesozoic time, and Cenozoic time. These epochs are divided into periods, with reference to the character of the fossil evidence of former organic life contained in their respective strata. Paleozoic time, which was probably three times longer than all later time, contains three ages : The Silurian, or Age of Invertebrates; the Devonian, or Age of Fishes, and the Carboniferous. Mesozoic time consists of but one age, the age of Reptiles. Cenozoic time is divided into two ages, the Tertiary, or Age of Mammals, and the Quaternary, or Age of Man. This classification represents more than fifty years' indefatigable labor on the part of the paleontologists of Europe and America. The impetus which the publication of Lyell's "Principles" gave to the study of fossils has never abated, and every available region in England, France, Germany, and the United States has been thoroughly explored. An enumeration of those who have contributed to this gigantic undertaking would be but a mere catalogue of names.

In America the progress of discovery and research has been unparalleled, until it has become par exellence, an American subject. In 1859 Joseph Leidy discovered the bones of a prehistoric quadruped in the basin of an ancient Rocky-Mountain lake. A vigorous exploration of all the older lake basins of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Dakota revealed the fact that the western part of North America had once been the home of mammoths, rhinoceroses, tapirs, horses, and other quadruped animals. The two men who have probably done more than any others to develop American paleontology are Professor Marsh, of Yale College, and the late Professor E. D. Cope, of Philadelphia, vertebrate paleontologist of the United States Geological Survey, both men of immense fortune. From 1876 to 1885, Professor Cope had from three to five expeditions always in the field, the expenses of which he bore himself. When the fossil beds of Kansas, Colorado, Dakota, and Wyoming, the greatest known, were discovered, Professor Cope and Professor Marsh assumed the mighty task of excavating, shipping, and classifying these remains of the Reptilian and Mammalian ages. Thirty-seven species of serpents were found in Kansas alone, varying from ten to eighty feet in length, and representing six orders. Some of them were terrestrial in habit, many were flyers, and the others inhabited the salt ocean. The extent of the sea westward was vast and geology has not laid down its boundary, but it has been conjectured to be a shore now submerged beneath the waters of the North Pacific ocean. Out on the expanse of this ancient sea huge, snake-like forms rose above the surface, and stood erect, with tapering neck and narrow shaped head, or swayed about describing a circle of twenty feet radius above the water. This extraordinary neck was attached to a body of elephantine proportions, the limbs were two pair of paddles, and a long serpent-like tail balanced the body behind. The total length of the Elasmosaurus Platyurus, Cope, for such it has been named, was fifty feet. In many places as many as eleven of these leviathan monsters would be discovered curled up together among the rocks. It was indeed an Age of Reptiles. Flying Saurians filled the air, and flesh-eating lizards, from twenty-four to thirty-five feet long, crawled over the earth, bearing burdensome tons of flesh on two bird-like feet. A flying saurian of the Mesozoic period, discovered by Marsh, spread eighteen feet between the tips of its wings, while the Pterodactyl Umbrosus, Cope, covered nearly twenty-five feet with its expanse.

The most important discovery made by Cope was the skeleton of the Phenacodus Primaevus, considered the ancestor of all hoofed animals. In life it was four and a half feet long, not quite so large as a yearling calf, and when it skipped along it fluttered a pair of wings. This strange animal belonged to the first period of the Tertiary Age, during which time the American Continent began to assume its present outlines. Only the borders of the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific were covered by the sea. The Rocky Mountain region was above the sea. The Ohio and Mississippi were independent streams emptying into the gulf, and the Great Lakes began to assume their present form. Great forests extended from one end of the Continent to the other, and giant sloths, mastodons, elephants, rhinoceroses, and camels roamed the length and breadth of the land. Immediately after this age of abnormal life came the glacial period, which was in turn followed by the Age of Man.

The progress of the science of geology in the United States was greatly accelerated by the establishment of the office of Director of Geological Survey on March 3, 1879 the department being placed under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior. The survey was organized in four branches, geological, topographical, publication, and administrative, and within each of these branches are several divisions. Since its establishment, nearly fifty thou-sand square miles have been surveyed topographically, the survey being of special service during the past few years in the development of mineral resources, as well as contributing a vast amount of knowledge to the science in general.

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