At the foot of all the cliffs, the sea shoals very gradually far outwards; and the bottom, for a space of some miles, everywhere consists of gravel. I carefully examined the bed of the sea off the Santa Cruz, and found that its inclination was exactly the same, both in amount and in its peculiar curvature, with that of the 355 feet plain at this same place. If, therefore, the coast, with the bed of the adjoining sea, were now suddenly elevated one or two hundred feet, an inland line of cliffs, that is an escarpment, would be formed, with a gravel-capped plain at its foot gently sloping to the sea, and having an inclination like that of the existing 355 feet plain. From the denuding tendency of the sea, this newly formed plain would in time be eaten back into a cliff: and repetitions of this elevatory and denuding process would produce a series of gravel-capped sloping terraces, rising one above another, like those fronting the shores of Patagonia.
The chief difficulty (for there are other inconsiderable ones) on this view, is the fact,--as far as I can trust two continuous lines of soundings carefully taken between Santa Cruz and the Falkland Islands, and several scattered observations on this and other coasts,--that the pebbles at the bottom of the sea QUICKLY and REGULARLY decrease in size with the increasing depth and distance from the shore, whereas in the gravel on the sloping plains, no such decrease in size was perceptible.
Table 3 below gives the average result of many soundings off the Santa Cruz:-- TABLE 3.
Under two miles from the shore, many of the pebbles were of large size, mingled with some small ones.
Column 1. Distance in miles from the shore.
Column 2. Depth in fathoms.
Column 3. Size of Pebbles.
1. 2. 3.
3 to 4 11 to 12 As large as walnuts; mingled in every case with some smaller ones.
6 to 7 17 to 19 As large as hazel-nuts.
10 to 11 23 to 25 From three- to four-tenths of an inch in diameter.
12 30 to 40 Two-tenths of an inch.
22 to 150 45 to 65 One-tenth of an inch, to the finest sand.
I particularly attended to the size of the pebbles on the 355 feet Santa Cruz plain, and I noticed that on the summit-edge of the present sea cliffs many were as large as half a man's head; and in crossing from these cliffs to the foot of the next highest escarpment, a distance of six miles, I could not observe any increase in their size. We shall presently see that the theory of a slow and almost insensible rise of the land, will explain all the facts connected with the gravel-capped terraces, better than the theory of sudden elevations of from one to two hundred feet.
M. d'Orbigny has argued, from the upraised shells at San Blas being embedded in the positions in which they lived, and from the valves of the Azara labiata high on the banks of the Parana being united and unrolled, that the elevation of Northern Patagonia and of La Plata must have been sudden; for he thinks, if it had been gradual, these shells would all have been rolled on successive beach-lines. But in PROTECTED bays, such as in that of Bahia Blanca, wherever the sea is accumulating extensive mud-banks, or where the winds quietly heap up sand-dunes, beds of shells might assuredly be preserved buried in the positions in which they had lived, even whilst the land retained the same level; any, the smallest, amount of elevation would directly aid in their preservation. I saw a multitude of spots in Bahia Blanca where this might have been effected; and at Maldonado it almost certainly has been effected. In speaking of the elevation of the land having been slow, I do not wish to exclude the small starts which accompany earthquakes, as on the coast of Chile; and by such movements beds of shells might easily be uplifted, even in positions exposed to a heavy surf, without undergoing any attrition: for instance, in 1835, a rocky flat off the island of Santa Maria was at one blow upheaved above high-water mark, and was left covered with gaping and putrefying mussel-shells, still attached to the bed on which they had lived.