Along the shores of the Pacific, I never ceased during my many and long excursions to feel astonished at seeing every valley, ravine, and even little inequality of surface, both in the hard granitic and soft tertiary districts, retaining the exact outline, which they had when the sea left their surfaces coated with organic remains. When these remains shall have decayed, there will be scarcely any difference in appearance between this line of coast-land and most other countries, which we are accustomed to believe have assumed their present features chiefly through the agency of the weather and fresh-water streams. In the old granitic districts, no doubt it would be rash to attribute all the modifications of outline exclusively to the sea-action; for who can say how often this lately submerged coast may not previously have existed as land, worn by running streams and washed by rain? This source of doubt, however, does not apply to the districts superficially formed of the modern tertiary deposits. The valleys worn by the sea, through the softer formations, both on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the continent, are generally broad, winding, and flat-bottomed: the only district of this nature now penetrated by arms of the sea, is the island of Chiloe.

Finally, the conclusion at which I have arrived, with respect to the relative powers of rain and sea water on the land, is, that the latter is far the most efficient agent, and that its chief tendency is to widen the valleys; whilst torrents and rivers tend to deepen them, and to remove the wreck of the sea's destroying action. As the waves have more power, the more open and exposed the space may be, so will they always tend to widen more and more the mouths of valleys compared with their upper parts: hence, doubtless, it is, that most valleys expand at their mouths,--that part, at which the rivers flowing in them, generally have the least wearing power.

When reflecting on the action of the sea on the land at former levels, the effect of the great waves, which generally accompany earthquakes, must not be overlooked: few years pass without a severe earthquake occurring on some part of the west coast of South America; and the waves thus caused have great power. At Concepcion, after the shock of 1835, I saw large slabs of sandstone, one of which was six feet long, three in breadth, and two in thickness, thrown high up on the beach; and from the nature of the marine animals still adhering to it, it must have been torn up from a considerable depth. On the other hand, at Callao, the recoil-wave of the earthquake of 1746 carried great masses of brickwork, between three and four feet square, some way out seaward. During the course of ages, the effect thus produced at each successive level, cannot have been small; and in some of the tertiary deposits on this line of coast, I observed great boulders of granite and other neighbouring rocks, embedded in fine sedimentary layers, the transportal of which, except by the means of earthquake-waves, always appeared to me inexplicable.


This subject may be here conveniently treated of: I will begin with the most interesting case, namely, the superficial saline beds near Iquique in Peru. The porphyritic mountains on the coast rise abruptly to a height of between one thousand nine hundred and three thousand feet: between their summits and an inland plain, on which the celebrated deposit of nitrate of soda lies, there is a high undulatory district, covered by a remarkable superficial saliferous crust, chiefly composed of common salt, either in white, hard, opaque nodules, or mingled with sand, in this latter case forming a compact sandstone. This saliferous superficial crust extends from the edge of the coast-escarpment, over the whole face of the country; but never attains, as I am assured by Mr. Bollaert (long resident here) any great thickness. Although a very slight shower falls only at intervals of many years, yet small funnel-shaped cavities show that the salt has been in some parts dissolved.

South American Geology Page 58

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Charles Darwin

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