Coral Reefs

Page 82

I infer from Mr. Hopkins' researches ("Researches in Physical Geology," Transact. Cambridge Phil. Soc., volume vi, part i.), that for the formation of a long chain of mountains, with few lateral spurs, an area elongated in the same direction with the chain, must have been subjected to an elevatory movement. Mountain-chains, however, when already formed, although running in very different directions, it seems (For instance in S. America from latitude 34 deg, for very many degrees southward there are upraised beds containing recent species of shells, on both the Atlantic and Pacific side of the continent, and from the gradual ascent of the land, although with very unequal slopes, on both sides towards the Cordillera, I think it can hardly be doubted that the entire width has been upraised in mass within the recent period. In this case the two W.N.W. and E.S.E. mountain-lines, namely the Sierra Ventana and the S. Tapalguen, and the great north and south line of the Cordillera have been together raised. In the West Indies the N. and S. line of the Eastern Antilles, and the E. and W. line of Jamaica, appear both to have been upraised within the latest geological period.) may be raised together by a widely-acting force: so, perhaps, mountain-chains may subside together. Hence, we cannot tell, whether the Caroline and Marshall Archipelagoes, two groups of atolls running in different directions and meeting each other, have been formed by the subsidence of two areas, or of one large area, including two distinct lines of mountains. We have, however, in the southern prolongation of the Mariana Islands, probable evidence of a line of recent elevation having intersected one of recent subsidence. A view of the map will show that, generally, there is a tendency to alternation in the parallel areas undergoing opposite kinds of movement; as if the sinking of one area balanced the rising of another.

The existence in many parts of the world of high table-land, proves that large surfaces have been upraised in mass to considerable heights above the level of the ocean; although the highest points in almost every country consist of upturned strata, or erupted matter: and from the immense spaces scattered with atolls, which indicate that land originally existed there, although not one pinnacle now remains above the level of the sea, we may conclude that wide areas have subsided to an amount, sufficient to bury not only any formerly existing table-land, but even the heights formed by fractured strata, and erupted matter. The effects produced on the land by the later elevatory movements, namely, successively rising cliffs, lines of erosion, and beds of literal shells and pebbles, all requiring time for their production, prove that these movements have been very slow; we can, however, infer this with safety, only with respect to the few last hundred feet of rise. But with reference to the whole vast amount of subsidence, necessary to have produced the many atolls widely scattered over immense spaces, it has already been shown (and it is, perhaps, the most interesting conclusion in this volume), that the movements must either have been uniform and exceedingly slow, or have been effected by small steps, separated from each other by long intervals of time, during which the reef-constructing polypifers were able to bring up their solid frameworks to the surface. We have little means of judging whether many considerable oscillations of level have generally occurred during the elevation of large tracts; but we know, from clear geological evidence, that this has frequently taken place; and we have seen on our map, that some of the same islands have both subsided and been upraised. I conclude, however, that most of the large blue spaces, have subsided without many and great elevatory oscillations, because only a few upraised atolls have been observed: the supposition that such elevations have taken place, but that the upraised parts have been worn down by the surf, and thus have escaped observation, is overruled by the very considerable depth of the lagoons of all the larger atolls; for this could not have been the case, if they had suffered repeated elevations and abrasion.

Charles Darwin

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