I have entered into this case in some detail, for I was long perplexed (and others have felt the same difficulty) in understanding how, on the idea of an equable elevation with the sea at intervals eating into the land, it came that neither the terraces nor the upper nor lower edges of the escarpments were horizontal. Along lines of coast, even of great lengths, such as that of Patagonia, if they are nearly uniformly exposed, the corroding power of the waves will be checked and conquered by the elevatory movement, as often as it recommences, at about the same period; and hence the terraces, or accumulated beach-lines, will commence being formed at nearly the same levels: at each succeeding period of rest, they will, also, be eaten into at nearly the same rate, and consequently there will be a much closer coincidence in their levels and inclinations, than in the terraces and escarpments formed round bays with their different parts very differently exposed to the action of the sea. It is only where the waves are enabled, after a long lapse of time, slowly to corrode hard rocks, or to throw up, owing to the supply of sediment being small and to the surface being steeply inclined, a narrow beach or mound, that we can expect, as at Glen Roy in Scotland ("Philosophical Transactions" 1839 page 39.), a distinct line marking an old sea-level, and which will be strictly horizontal, if the subsequent elevatory movements have been so: for in these cases no discernible effects will be produced, except during the long intervening periods of rest; whereas in the case of step-formed coasts, such as those described in this and the preceding chapter, the terraces themselves are accumulated during the slow elevatory process, the accumulation commencing sooner in protected than in exposed situations, and sooner where there is copious supply of detritus than where there is little; on the other hand, the steps or escarpments are formed during the stationary periods, and are more deeply cut down and into the coast-land in exposed than in protected situations;--the cutting action, moreover, being prolonged in the most exposed parts, both during the beginning and ending, if slow, of the upward movement.

Although in the foregoing discussion I have assumed the elevation to have been horizontal, it may be suspected, from the considerable seaward slope of the terraces, both up the valley of S. Cruz and up that of Coquimbo, that the rising has been greater inland than nearer the coast. There is reason to believe (Mr. Place in the "Quarterly Journal of Science" 1824 volume 17 page 42.), from the effects produced on the water-course of a mill during the earthquake of 1822 in Chile, that the upheaval one mile inland was nearly double, namely, between five and seven feet, to what it was on the Pacific. We know, also, from the admirable researches of M. Bravais, that in Scandinavia the ancient sea-beaches gently slope from the interior mountain-ranges towards the coast, and that they are not parallel one to the other ("Voyages de la Comm. du Nord" etc. also "Comptes Rendus" October 1842.), showing that the proportional difference in the amount of elevation on the coast and in the interior, varied at different periods.


In this distance of ninety miles, I found in almost every part marine shells up to a height of apparently from two hundred to three hundred feet. The desert plain near Choros is thus covered; it is bounded by the escarpment of a higher plain, consisting of pale-coloured, earthy, calcareous stone, like that of Coquimbo, with the same recent shells embedded in it. In the valley of Chaneral, a similar bed occurs in which, differently from that of Coquimbo, I observed many shells of the Concholepas: near Guasco the same calcareous bed is likewise met with.

In the valley of Guasco, the step-formed terraces of gravel are displaced in a more striking manner than at any other point. I followed the valley for thirty-seven miles (as reckoned by the inhabitants) from the coast to Ballenar; in nearly the whole of this distance, five grand terraces, running at corresponding heights on both sides of the broad valley, are more conspicuous than the three best-developed ones at Coquimbo.

South American Geology Page 40

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Charles Darwin

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