Whether on this side of the continent the elevation, between the periods of comparative rest when the escarpments were formed, has been by small sudden starts, such as those accompanying recent earthquakes, or, as is most probable, by such starts conjointly with a gradual upward movement, or by great and sudden upheavals, I have no direct evidence. But as on the eastern coast, I was led to think, from the analogy of the last hundred feet of elevation in La Plata, and from the nearly equal size of the pebbles over the entire width of the terraces, and from the upraised shells being all littoral species, that the elevation had been gradual; so do I on this western coast, from the analogy of the movements now in progress, and from the vast numbers of shells now living exclusively on or close to the beach, which are strewed over the whole surface of the land up to very considerable heights, conclude, that the movement here also has been slow and gradual, aided probably by small occasional starts. We know at least that at Coquimbo, where five escarpments occur in a height of 364 feet, the successive elevations, if they have been sudden, cannot have been very great. It has, I think, been shown that the occasional preservation of shells, unrolled and unbroken, is not improbable even during a quite gradual rising of the land; and their preservation, if the movement has been aided by small starts, is quite conformable with what actually takes place during recent earthquakes.

Judging from the present action of the sea, along the shores of the Pacific, on the deposits of its own accumulation, the present time seems in most places to be one of comparative rest in the elevatory movement, and of denudation of the land. Undoubtedly this is the case along the whole great length of Patagonia. At Chiloe, however, we have seen that a narrow sloping fringe, covered with vegetation, separates the present sea-beach from a line of low cliffs, which the waves lately reached; here, then, the land is gaining in breadth and height, and the present period is not one of rest in the elevation and of contingent denudation; but if the rising be not prolonged at a quick rate, there is every probability that the sea will soon regain its former horizontal limits. I observed similar low sloping fringes on several parts of the coast, both northward of Valparaiso and near Coquimbo; but at this latter place, from the change in form which the coast has undergone since the old escarpments were worn, it may be doubted whether the sea, acting for any length of time at its present level, would eat into the land; for it now rather tends to throw up great masses of sand. It is from facts such as these that I have generally used the term COMPARATIVE rest, as applied to the elevation of the land; the rest or cessation in the movement being comparative both with what has preceded it and followed it, and with the sea's power of corrosion at each spot and at each level. Near Lima, the cliff-formed shores of San Lorenzo, and on the mainland south of Callao, show that the sea is gaining on the land; and as we have here some evidence that its surface has lately subsided or is still sinking, the periods of comparative rest in the elevation and of contingent denudation, may probably in many cases include periods of subsidence. It is only, as was shown in detail when discussing the terraces of Coquimbo, when the sea with difficulty and after a long lapse of time has either corroded a narrow ledge into solid rock, or has heaped up on a steep surface a NARROW mound of detritus, that we can confidently assert that the land at that level and at that period long remained absolutely stationary. In the case of terraces formed of gravel or sand, although the elevation may have been strictly horizontal, it may well happen that no one level beach-line may be traceable, and that neither the terraces themselves nor the summit nor basal edges of their escarpments may be horizontal.

Finally, comparing the extent of the elevated area, as deduced from the upraised recent organic remains, on the two sides of the continent, we have seen that on the Atlantic, shells have been found at intervals from Eastern Tierra del Fuego for 1,180 miles northward, and on the Pacific for a space of 2,075 miles.

South American Geology Page 49

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Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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