It is, then, not improbable that the corals should sometimes perish either on the whole or on part of a reef; if on part, the dead portion, after a small amount of subsidence, would still retain its proper outline and position beneath the water. After a more prolonged subsidence, it would probably form, owing to the accumulation of sediment, only the margin of a flat bank, marking the limits of the former lagoon. Such dead portions of reef would generally lie on the leeward side (Mr. Lyell, in the first edition of his "Principles of Geology," offered a somewhat different explanation of this structure. He supposes that there has been subsidence; but he was not aware that the submerged portions of reef were in most cases, if not in all, dead; and he attributes the difference in height in the two sides of most atolls, chiefly to the greater accumulation of detritus to windward than to leeward. But as matter is accumulated only on the backward part of the reef, the front part would remain of the same height on both sides. I may here observe that in most cases (for instance, at Peros Banhos, the Gambier group and the Great Chagos Bank), and I suspect in all cases, the dead and submerged portions do not blend or slope into the living and perfect parts, but are separated from them by an abrupt line. In some instances small patches of living reef rise to the surface from the middle of the submerged and dead parts.), for the impure water and fine sediment would more easily flow out from the lagoon over this side of the reef, where the force of the breakers is less than to windward; and therefore the corals would be less vigorous on this side, and be less able to resist any destroying agent. It is likewise owing to this same cause, that reefs are more frequently breached to leeward by narrow channels, serving as by ship-channels, than to windward. If the corals perished entirely, or on the greater part of the circumference of an atoll, an atoll-shaped bank of dead rock, more or less entirely submerged, would be produced; and further subsidence, together with the accumulation of sediment, would often obliterate its atoll-like structure, and leave only a bank with a level surface.
In the Chagos group of atolls, within an area of 160 miles by 60, there are two atoll-formed banks of dead rock (besides another very imperfect one), entirely submerged; a third, with merely two or three very small pieces of living reef rising to the surface; and a fourth, namely, Peros Banhos (Plate I., Figure 9), with a portion nine miles in length dead and submerged. As by our theory this area has subsided, and as there is nothing improbable in the death, either from changes in the state of the surrounding sea or from the subsidence being great or sudden, of the corals on the whole, or on portions of some of the atolls, the case of the Chagos group presents no difficulty. So far indeed are any of the above-mentioned cases of submerged reefs from being inexplicable, that their occurrence might have been anticipated on our theory, and as fresh atolls are supposed to be in progressive formation by the subsidence of encircling barrier-reefs, a weighty objection, namely that the number of atolls must be increasing infinitely, might even have been raised, if proofs of the occasional destruction and loss of atolls could not have been adduced.
THE DISSEVERMENT OF THE LARGER MALDIVA ATOLLS.
The apparent progressive disseverment in the Maldiva Archipelago of large atolls into smaller ones, is, in many respects, an important consideration, and requires an explanation. The graduated series which marks, as I believe, this process, can be observed only in the northern half of the group, where the atolls have exceedingly imperfect margins, consisting of detached basin-formed reefs. The currents of the sea flow across these atolls, as I am informed by Captain Moresby, with considerable force, and drift the sediment from side to side during the monsoons, transporting much of it seaward; yet the currents sweep with greater force round their flanks.