There are other epochs, besides that of the existence of recent Mollusca, by which to judge of the changes of level on this coast. At Lima, as we have just seen, the elevation has been at least eighty-five feet, within the Indo-human period; and since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1530, there has apparently been a sinking of the surface. At Valparaiso, in the course of 220 years, the rise must have been less than nineteen feet; but it has been as much as from ten to eleven feet in the seventeen years subsequently to 1817, and of this rise only a part can be attributed to the earthquake of 1822, the remainder having been insensible and apparently still, in 1834, in progress. At Chiloe the elevation has been gradual, and about four feet during four years. At Coquimbo, also, it has been gradual, and in the course of 150 years has amounted to several feet. The sudden small upheavals, accompanied by earthquakes, as in 1822 at Valparaiso, in 1835 at Concepcion, and in 1837 in the Chonos Archipelago, are familiar to most geologists, but the gradual rising of the coast of Chile has been hardly noticed; it is, however, very important, as connecting together these two orders of events.

The rise of Lima, having been eighty-five feet within the period of man, is the more surprising if we refer to the eastern coast of the continent, for at Port S. Julian, in Patagonia, there is good evidence (as we shall hereafter see) that when the land stood ninety feet lower, the Macrauchenia, a mammiferous beast, was alive; and at Bahia Blanca, when it stood only a few feet lower than it now does, many gigantic quadrupeds ranged over the adjoining country. But the coast of Patagonia is some way distant from the Cordillera, and the movement at Bahia Blanca is perhaps noways connected with this great range, but rather with the tertiary volcanic rocks of Banda Oriental, and therefore the elevation at these places may have been infinitely slower than on the coast of Peru. All such speculations, however, must be vague, for as we know with certainty that the elevation of the whole coast of Patagonia has been interrupted by many and long pauses, who will pretend to say that, in such cases, many and long periods of subsidence may not also have been intercalated?

In many parts of the coast of Chile and Peru there are marks of the action of the sea at successive heights on the land, showing that the elevation has been interrupted by periods of comparative rest in the upward movement, and of denudation in the action of the sea. These are plainest at Chiloe, where, in a height of about five hundred feet, there are three escarpments,--at Coquimbo, where in a height of 364 feet, there are five,-- at Guasco, where there are six, of which five may perhaps correspond with those at Coquimbo, but if so, the subsequent and intervening elevatory movements have been here much more energetic,--at Lima, where, in a height of about 250 feet there are three terraces, and others, as it is asserted, at considerably greater heights. The almost entire absence of ancient marks of sea-action at defined levels along considerable spaces of coast, as near Valparaiso and Concepcion, is highly instructive, for as it is improbable that the elevation at these places alone should have been continuous, we must attribute the absence of such marks to the nature and form of the coast-rocks. Seeing over how many hundred miles of the coast of Patagonia, and on how many places on the shores of the Pacific, the elevatory process has been interrupted by periods of comparative rest, we may conclude, conjointly with the evidence drawn from other quarters of the world, that the elevation of the land is generally an intermittent action. From the quantity of matter removed in the formation of the escarpments, especially of those of Patagonia, it appears that the periods of rest in the movement, and of denudation of the land, have generally been very long. In Patagonia, we have seen that the elevation has been equable, and the periods of denudation synchronous over very wide spaces of coast; on the shores of the Pacific, owing to the terraces chiefly occurring in the valleys, we have not equal means of judging on this point; and the very different heights of the upraised shells at Coquimbo, Valparaiso, and Concepcion seem directly opposed to such a conclusion.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book