Online Encyclopedia

PART IV

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 657 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PART IV.—DYNAMICAL GEOLOGY This section of the science includes the investigation of those processes of change which are at present in progress upon the earth, whereby modifications are made on the structure and composition of the crust, on the relations between the interior and the surface, as shown by volcanoes, earthquakes and other terrestrial disturbances; on the distribution of oceans and continents, on the outlines of the land, on the form and depth of the sea-bottom, on climate, and on the races of plants and animals by which the earth is tenanted. It brings before us, in short, the whole range of activities which it is the province of geology to study, and leads us to precise notions regarding their relations to each other and the results which they achieve. A knowledge of this branch of the subject is thus the essential groundwork of a true and fruitful acquaintance with the principles of geology, seeing that it necessitates a study of the present order of nature, and thus provides a key for the interpretation of the past. The whole range of operations included within the scope of inquiry in this branch of the science may be regarded as a vast cycle of change, into which we may break at any point, and round which we may travel, only to find ourselves brought back to our starting-point. It is a matter of comparatively small moment at what part of the cycle we begin our inquiries. We shall always find that the changes we see in action have resulted from some that preceded, and give place to others which follow them. At an early time in the earth's history, anterior to any of the periods of which a record remains in the visible rocks, the chief sources of geological action probably lay within the earth itself. If, as is generally supposed, the planet still retained a great store of its initial heat, it was doubtless the theatre of great chemical changes, giving rise, perhaps, to manifestations of volcanic energy somewhat like those which have so marvellously roughened the surface of the moon. As the outer layers of the globe cooled, and the disturbances due to internal heat and chemical action became less marked, the conditions would arise in which the materials for geological history were accumulated. The influence of the sun, which must always have operated, would then stand out more clearly, giving rise to that wide circle of superficial changes wherein variations of temperature and the circulation of air and water over the surface of the earth come into play. In the pursuit of his inquiries into the past history and into the present regime of the earth, the geologist must needs keep his mind ever open to the reception of evidence for kinds and especially for degrees of action which he had not before imagined. Human experience has been too short to allow him to assume that all the causes and modes of geological change have been definitively ascertained. On the earth itself there may remain for future discovery evidence of former operations by heat, magnetism, chemical change or otherwise, which may explain many of the phenomena with which geology has to deal. Of the influences, so many and profound, which the sun exerts upon our planet, we can as yet only perceive a little. Nor can we tell what other cosmical influences may have lent their aid in the evolution of geological changes. Much useful information regarding many geological processes has been obtained from experimental research in laboratories and elsewhere, and much more may be confidently looked for from future extensions of this method of inquiry. The early experiments of Sir James Hall, already noticed, formed the starting-point for numerous subsequent researches, which have elucidated many points in the origin and history of rocks. It is true that we cannot hope to imitate those operations of nature which demand enormous pressures and excessively high temperatures combined with a long lapse of time. But experience has shown that in regard to a large, number of processes, it is possible to imitate nature's working with sufficient accuracy to enable us to understand them, and so to modify and control the results as to obtain a satisfactory solution of some geological problems. In the present state of our knowledge, all the geological energy upon and within the earth must ultimately be traced back to the primeval energy of the parent nebula or sun. There is, however, a certain propriety and convenience in distinguishing between that part of it which is due to the survival of some of the original energy of the planet and that part which arises from the present supply of energy received day by day from the sun. In the former case we have to deal with the interior of the earth, and its reaction upon the surface; in the latter, we deal with the surface of the earth and to some extent with its reaction on the interior. This distinction allows of a broad treatment of the subject under two divisions: . I. Hypogene or Plutonic Action: The changes within the earth caused by internal heat, mechanical movement and chemical rearrangements. II. Epigene or Surface Action: The changes produced on the superficial parts of the earth, chiefly by the circulation of air and water set in motion by the sun's heat.
End of Article: PART IV
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