Coral Reefs

Page 19

M. Elie de Beaumont ("Memoires pour servir a une description Geolog. de France," tome iv., page 216.) has argued, and there is no higher authority on this subject, from the inclination at which snow slides down in avalanches, that a bed of sand or mud cannot be formed at a greater angle than thirty degrees. Considering the number of soundings on sand, obtained round the Maldiva and Chagos atolls, which appears to indicate a greater angle, and the extreme abruptness of the sand-banks in the West Indies, as will be mentioned in the Appendix, I must conclude that the adhesive property of wet sand counteracts its gravity, in a much greater ratio than has been allowed for by M. Elie de Beaumont. From the facility with which calcareous sand becomes agglutinated, it is not necessary to suppose that the bed of loose sand is thick.

Captain Beechey has observed, that the submarine slope is much less at the extremities of the more elongated atolls in the Low Archipelago, than at their sides; in speaking of Ducie's Island he says (Beechey's "Voyage," 4to edition, page 44.) the buttress, as it may be called, which "has the most powerful enemy (the S.W. swell) to oppose, is carried out much further, and with less abruptness than the other." In some cases, the less inclination of a certain part of the external slope, for instance of the northern extremities of the two Keeling atolls, is caused by a prevailing current which there accumulates a bed of sand. Where the water is perfectly tranquil, as within a lagoon, the reefs generally grow up perpendicularly, and sometimes even overhang their bases; on the other hand, on the leeward side of Mauritius, where the water is generally tranquil, although not invariably so, the reef is very gently inclined. Hence it appears that the exterior angle varies much; nevertheless in the close similarity in form between the sections of Keeling atoll and of the atolls in the Low Archipelago, in the general steepness of the reefs of the Maldiva and Chagos atolls, and in the perpendicularity of those rising out of water always tranquil, we may discern the effects of uniform laws; but from the complex action of the surf and currents, on the growing powers of the coral and on the deposition of sediment, we can by no means follow out all the results.

Where islets have been formed on the reef, that part which I have sometimes called the "flat" and which is partly dry at low water, appears similar in every atoll. In the Marshall group in the North Pacific, it may be inferred from Chamisso's description, that the reef, where islets have not been formed on it, slopes gently from the external margin to the shores of the lagoon; Flinders states that the Australian barrier has a similar inclination inwards, and I have no doubt it is of general occurrence, although, according to Ehrenberg, the reefs of the Red Sea offer an exception. Chamisso observes that "the red colour of the reef (at the Marshall atolls) under the breakers is caused by a Nullipora, which covers the stone WHEREVER THE WAVES BEAT; and, under favourable circumstances, assumes a stalactical form,"--a description perfectly applicable to the margin of Keeling atoll. (Kotzebue's "First Voyage," volume iii., page 142. Near Porto Praya, in the Cape de Verde Islands, some basaltic rocks, lashed by no inconsiderable surf, were completely enveloped with a layer of Nulliporae. The entire surface over many square inches, was coloured of a peach-blossomed red; the layer, however, was of no greater thickness than paper. Another kind, in the form of projecting knobs, grew in the same situation. These Nulliporae are closely related to those described on the coral-reefs, but I believe are of different species.) Although Chamisso does not state that the masses of Nulliporae form points or a mound, higher than the flat, yet I believe that this is the case; for Kotzebue (Kotzebue, "First Voyage," volume ii., page 16. Lieutenant Nelson, in his excellent memoir in the Geological Transactions (volume ii., page 105), alludes to the rocky points mentioned by Kotzebue, and infers that they consist of Serpulae, which compose incrusting masses on the reefs of Bermudas, as they likewise do on a sandstone bar off the coast of Brazil (which I have described in "London Phil.

Coral Reefs Page 20

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book