We have seen that porphyritic pebbles of a small size are first met with on the northern side of the Rio Colorado, the bed becoming well developed near the Rio Negro: from this latter point I have every reason to believe that the gravel extends uninterruptedly over the plains and valleys of Patagonia for at least 630 nautical miles southward to the Rio Gallegos. From the slope of the plains, from the nature of the pebbles, from their extension at the Rio Negro far into the interior, and at the Santa Cruz close up to the Cordillera, I think it highly probable that the whole breadth of Patagonia is thus covered. If so, the average width of the bed must be about two hundred miles. Near the coast the gravel is generally from ten to thirty feet in thickness; and as in the valley of Santa Cruz it attains, at some distance from the Cordillera, a thickness of 214 feet, we may, I think, safely assume its average thickness over the whole area of 630 by 200 miles, at fifty feet!

The transportal and origin of this vast bed of pebbles is an interesting problem. From the manner in which they cap the step-formed plains, worn by the sea within the period of existing shells, their deposition, at least on the plains up to a height of 400 feet, must have been a recent geological event. From the form of the continent, we may feel sure that they have come from the westward, probably, in chief part from the Cordillera, but, perhaps, partly from unknown rocky ridges in the central districts of Patagonia. That the pebbles have not been transported by rivers, from the interior towards the coast, we may conclude from the fewness and smallness of the streams of Patagonia: moreover, in the case of the one great and rapid river of Santa Cruz, we have good evidence that its transporting power is very trifling. This river is from two to three hundred yards in width, about seventeen feet deep in its middle, and runs with a singular degree of uniformity five knots an hour, with no lakes and scarcely any still reaches: nevertheless, to give one instance of its small transporting power, upon careful examination, pebbles of compact basalt could not be found in the bed of the river at a greater distance than ten miles below the point where the stream rushes over the debris of the great basaltic cliffs forming its shore: fragments of the CELLULAR varieties have been washed down twice or thrice as far. That the pebbles in Central and Northern Patagonia have not been transported by ice-agency, as seems to have been the case to a considerable extent farther south, and likewise in the northern hemisphere, we may conclude, from the absence of all angular fragments in the gravel, and from the complete contrast in many other respects between the shingle and neighbouring boulder formation.

Looking to the gravel on any one of the step-formed plains, I cannot doubt, from the several reasons assigned in this chapter, that it has been spread out and leveled by the long-continued action of the sea, probably during the slow rise of the land. The smooth and perfectly rounded condition of the innumerable pebbles alone would prove long-continued action. But how the whole mass of shingle on the coast-plains has been transported from the mountains of the interior, is another and more difficult question. The following considerations, however, show that the sea by its ordinary action has considerable power in distributing pebbles. Table 3 above shows how very uniformly and gradually the pebbles decrease in size with the gradually seaward increasing depth and distance. (I may mention, that at the distance of 150 miles from the Patagonian shore I carefully examined the minute rounded particles in the sand, and found them to be fusible like the porphyries of the great shingle bed. I could even distinguish particles of the gallstone-yellow porphyry. It was interesting to notice how gradually the particles of white quartz increased, as we approached the Falkland Islands, which are thus constituted. In the whole line of soundings between these islands and the coast of Patagonia dead or living organic remains were most rare.

South American Geology Page 24

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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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