Earth as Modified by Human Action, The: Chapter 06 (historical)

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Historical E-Book: The Earth as Modified by Human Action
Author: George Perkins Marsh
First published: 1874

Chapter VI. Great Projects of Physical Change Accomplished or Proposed by Man

In a former chapter I spoke of the influence of human action on the surface of the globe as immensely superior in degree to that exerted by brute animals, if not essentially different from it in kind. The eminent Italian geologist, Stoppani, goes further than I had ventured to do, and treats the action of man as a new physical clement altogether sui generis. According to him, the existence of man constitutes a geological period which he designates as the ANTHROPOZOIC ERA. "The creation of man," says he, "was the introduction of a new element into nature, of a force wholly unknown to earlier periods." "It is a new telluric force which in power and universality may be compared to the greater forces of the earth."[1] It has already been abundantly shown that, though the undesigned and unforeseen results of man's action on the geographical conditions of the earth have perhaps been hitherto greater and more revolutionary than the effects specially aimed at by him, yet there is scarcely any assignable limit to his present and prospective voluntary controlling power over terrestrial nature.

Cutting of Marine Isthmuses

Besides the great enterprises of physical transformation of which I have already spoken, other works of internal improvement or change have been projected in ancient and modern times, the execution of which would produce considerable, and, in some cases, extremely important, revolutions in the face of the earth. Some of the schemes to which I refer are evidently chimerical; others are difficult, indeed, but cannot be said to be impracticable, though discouraged by the apprehension of disastrous consequences from the disturbance of existing natural or artificial arrangements; and there are still others, the accomplishment of which is ultimately certain, though for the present forbidden by economical considerations.

Nature sometimes mocks the cunning and the power of man by spontaneously performing, for his benefit, works which he shrinks from undertaking, and the execution of which by him she would resist with unconquerable obstinacy. A dangerous sand bank, that all the enginery of the world could not dredge out in a generation, may be carried off in a night by a strong river-flood, or by a current impelled by a violent wind from an unusual quarter, and a passage scarcely navigable by fishing-boats may be thus converted into a commodious channel for the largest ship that floats upon the ocean. In the remarkable gulf of Liimfjord in Jutland, referred to in the preceding chapter, nature has given a singular example of a canal which she alternately opens as a marine strait, and, by abutting again, converts into a fresh-water lagoon. The Liimfjord was doubtless originally an open channel from the Atlantic to the Baltic between two islands, but the sand washed up by the sea blocked up the western entrance, and built a wall of dunes to close it more firmly. This natural dike, as we have seen, has been more than once broken through, and it is perhaps in the power of man, either permanently to maintain the barrier, or to remove it and keep a navigable channel constantly open. If the Liimfjord becomes an open strait, the washing of sea-sand through it would perhaps block some of the belts and small channels now important for the navigation of the Baltic, and the direct introduction of a tidal current might produce very perceptible effects on the hydrography of the Cattegat.

When we consider the number of narrow necks or isthmuses which separate gulfs and bays of the sea from each other, or from the main ocean, and take into account the time and cost, and risks of navigation which would be saved by executing channels to connect such waters, and thus avoiding the necessity of doubling long capes and promontories, or even continents, it seems strange that more of the enterprise and money which have been so lavishly expended in forming artificial rivers for internal navigation should not have been bestowed upon the construction of maritime canals. Many such have been projected in early and in recent ages, and some trifling cuts between marine waters had been actually made; but before the construction of the Suez Canal, no work of this sort, possessing real geographical or even commercial importance, had been effected.

These enterprises are attended with difficulties and open to objections which are not, at first sight, obvious. Nature guards well the chains by which she connects promontories with mainlands, and binds continents together. Isthmuses are usually composed of adamantine rock or of shifting sands--the latter being much the more refractory material to deal with. In all such works there is a necessity for deep excavation below low-water mark--always a matter of great difficulty; the dimensions of channels for sea-going ships must be much greater than those of canals of inland navigation; the height of the masts or smokepipes of that class of vessels would often render bridging impossible, and thus a ship-canal might obstruct a communication more important than that which it was intended to promote; the securing of the entrances of marine canals and the construction of ports at their termini would in general be difficult and expensive, and the harbors and the channel which connected them would be extremely liable to fill up by deposits washed in from sea and shore. Besides all this there is, in many cases, an alarming uncertainty as to the effects of joining together waters which nature has put asunder. A new channel may deflect strong currents from safe courses, and thus occasion destructive erosion of shores otherwise secure, or promote the transportation of sand or slime to block up important harbors, or it may furnish a powerful enemy with dangerous facilities for hostile operations along the coast. The most colossal project of canalization ever suggested, whether we consider the physical difficulties of its execution, the magnitude and importance of the waters proposed to be united, or the distance which would be saved in navigation, is that of a channel between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, across the Isthmus of Darien. I do not now speak of a lock-canal, by way of the Lake of Nicaragua or any other route--for such a work would not differ essentially from other canals, and would scarcely possess a geographical character--but of an open cut between the two seas. The late survey by Captain Selfridge, showing that the lowest point on the dividing ridge is 763 feet above the sea-level, must be considered as determining in the negative the question of the possibility of such a cut, by any means now at the control of man; and both the sanguine expectations of benefits, and the dreary suggestions of danger, from the realization of this great dream, may now be dismissed as equally chimerical.

Suez Canal

The cutting of the Isthmus of Suez--the grandest and most truly cosmopolite physical improvement ever undertaken by man--threatens none of these dangers, and its only immediate geographical effect will probably be that interchange between the aquatic animal and vegetable life of two seas and two zones to which I alluded in a former chapter[2]. A collateral feature of this great enterprise deserves notice as possessing no inconsiderable geographical importance. I refer to the conduit or conduits constructed from the Nile to the isthmus, primarily to supply fresh water to the laborers on the great canal, and ultimately to serve as aqueducts for the city of Suez and other towns on the line of the canal, and for the irrigation and reclamation of a large extent of desert soil. In the flourishing days of the Egyptian empire, the waters of the Nile were carried over important districts cast of the river. In later ages, most of this territory relapsed into a desert, from the decay of the canals which once fertilized it. There is no difficulty in restoring the ancient channels, or in constructing new, and thus watering not only all the soil that the wisdom of the Pharaohs had improved, but much additional land. Hundreds of square miles of arid sand waste would thus be converted into fields of perennial verdure, and the geography of Lower Egypt would be thereby sensibly changed. Considerable towns are growing up at both ends of the channel, and at intermediate points, all depending on the maintenance of aqueducts from the Nile, both for water and for the irrigation of the neighboring fields which are to supply them with bread. Important interests will thus be created, which will secure the permanence of the hydraulic works and of the geographical changes produced by them, and Suez, or Port Said, or Ismailieh, may become the capital of the government which has been so long established at Cairo. Maritime Canals in Greece. A maritime canal executed and another projected in ancient times, the latter of which is again beginning to excite attention, deserve some notice, though their importance is of a commercial rather than a geographical character. The first of those is the cut made by Xerxes through the rock which connects the promontory of Mount Athos with the mainland; the other, a navigable canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. In spite of the testimony of Herodotus and Thucydides, the Romans classed the canal of Xerxes among the fables of "mendacious Greece," and yet traces of it are perfectly distinct at the present day through its whole extent, except at a single point where, after it had become so choked as to be no longer navigable, it was probably filled up to facilitate communication by land between the promontory and the country in the rear of it. The emperor Nero commenced the construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth, solely to facilitate the importation of grain from the East for distribution among the citizens of Rome--for the encouragement of general commerce was no part of the policy either of the republic or the empire, and though the avidity of traders, chiefly foreigners, secured to the luxury of the imperial city an abundant supply of far-fetched wares, yet Rome had nothing to export in return. The line of Nero's excavations is still traceable for three-quarters of a mile, or more than a fifth of the total distance between gulf and gulf.

If the fancy kingdom of Greece shall ever become a sober reality, escape from its tutelage and acquire such a moral as well as political status that its own capitalists--who now prefer to establish themselves and employ their funds anywhere else rather than in their native land--have any confidence in the permanency of its institutions, a navigable channel may be opened between the gulfs of Lepanto and AEgina. The annexation of the Ionian Islands to Greece will make such a work almost a political necessity, and it would not only furnish valuable facilities for domestic intercourse, but become an important channel of communication between the Levant and the countries bordering on the Adriatic, or conducting their trade through that sea. SHort as is the distance, the work would be a somewhat formidable undertaking, for the lowest point of the summit ridge of the isthmus is stated to be 246 feet above the water, and consequently the depth of excavation must be not less than 275 feet. As I have said, the importance of this latter canal and of a navigable channel between Mount Athos and the continent would be chiefly commercial, but both of them would be conspicuous instances of the control of man over nature in a field where he has thus far done little to interfere with her spontaneous arrangements. If they were constructed upon such a scale as to admit of the free passage of the water through them, in either direction, as the prevailing winds should impel it, they would exercise a certain influence on the coast currents, which are important as hydrographical elements, and also as producing abrasion of the coast and a drift at the bottom of seas, and hence they would be entitled to rank higher than simply as artificial means of transit. It has been thought practicable to cut a canal across the peninsula of Gallipoli from the outlet of the Sea of Marmora into the Gulf of Saros. It may be doubted whether the mechanical difficulties of such a work would not be found insuperable; but when Constantinople shall recover the important political and commercial rank which naturally belongs to her, the execution of such a canal will be recommended by strong reasons of military expediency, as well as by the interests of trade. An open channel across the peninsula would divert a portion of the water which now flows through the Dardanelles, diminishing the rapidity of that powerful current, and thus in part remove the difficulties which obstruct the navigation of the strait. It would considerably abridge the distance by water between Constantinople and the northern coast of the AEgean, and it would have the important advantage of obliging an enemy to maintain two blockading fleets instead of one.

Canals Communicating with Dead Sea

The project of Captain Allen for opening a new route to India by cuts between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, and between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, presents many interesting considerations[3]. The hypsometrical observations of Bertou, Roth, and others, render it highly probable, if not certain, that the watershed in the Wadi-el-Araba between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea is not less than three hundred feet above the main level of the latter, and if this is so, the execution of a canal from the one sea to the other is quite out of the question. But the summit level between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, near Jezreel, is believed to be little, if at all, more than one hundred feet above the sea, and the distance is so short that the cutting of a channel through the dividing ridge would probably be found by no means an impracticable undertaking. Although, therefore, we have no reason to believe it possible to open a navigable channel to India by way of the Dead Sea, there is not much doubt that the basin of the latter might be made accessible from the Mediterranean.

The level of the Dead Sea lies 1,316.7 feet below that of the ocean. It is bounded east and west by mountain ridges, rising to the height of from 2,000 to 4,000 feet above the ocean. From its southern end, a depression called the Wadi-el-Araba extends to the Gulf of Akaba, the eastern arm of the Red Sea. The Jordan empties into the northern extremity of the Dead Sea, after having passed through the Lake of Tiberias at an elevation of 663.4 feet above the Dead Sea, or 653.3 below the Mediterranean, and drains a considerable valley north of the lake, as well as the plain of Jericho, which lies between the lake and the sea. If the waters of the Mediterranean were admitted freely into the basin of the Dead Sea, they would raise its surface to the general level of the ocean, and consequently flood all the dry land below that level within the basin. I do not know that accurate levels have been taken in the valley of the Jordan above the Lake of Tiberias, and our information is very vague as to the hypsometry of the northern part of the Wadi-el-Araba. As little do we know where a contour line, carried around the basin at the level of the Mediterranean, would strike its eastern and western borders. We cannot, therefore, accurately compute the extent of now dry land which would be covered by the admission of the waters of the Mediterranean, or the area of the inland sea which would be thus created. Its length, however, would certainly exceed one hundred and fifty miles, and its mean breadth, including its gulfs and bays, could scarcely be less than fifteen, perhaps even twenty. It would cover very little ground now occupied by civilized or even uncivilized man, though some of the soil which would be submerged--for instance, that watered by the Fountain of Elisha and other neighboring sources--is of great fertility, and, under a wiser government and better civil institutions, might rise to importance, because, from its depression, it possesses a very warm climate, and might supply South-eastern Europe with tropical products more readily than they can be obtained from any other source. Such a canal and sea would be of no present commercial importance, because they would give access to no new markets or sources of supply; but when the fertile valleys and the deserted plains cast of the Jordan shall be reclaimed to agriculture and civilization, these waters would furnish a channel of communication which might become the medium of a very extensive trade. Whatever might be the economical results of the opening and filling of the Dead Sea basin, the creation of a new evaporable area, adding not less than 2,000 or perhaps 3,000 square miles to the present fluid surface of Syria, could not fail to produce important meteorological effects. The climate of Syria would probably be tempered, its precipitation and its fertility increased, the courses of its winds and the electrical condition of its atmosphere modified. The present organic life of the valley would be extinguished, and many tribes of plants and animals would emigrate from the Mediterranean to the new home which human art had prepared for them. It is possible, too, that the addition of 1,300 feet, or forty atmospheres, of hydrostatic pressure upon the bottom of the basin might disturb the equilibrium between the internal and the external forces of the crust of the earth at this point of abnormal configuration, and thus produce geological convulsions the intensity of which cannot be even conjectured.

It is now established by the observations of Rohlf and others that Strabo was right in asserting that a considerable part of the Libyan desert, or Sahara, lay below the level of the Mediterranean. At some points the depression exceeds 325 feet, and at Siwah, in the oasis of Jupiter Ammon, it is not less than 130 feet. It has been proposed to cut a canal through the coast dunes, on the shore south of the Syrtis Major, or Dschnn el Kebrit of the Arabs, and another project is to reopen the communication which appears to have once existed between the Palus Tritonis, or Sebcha el Nandid, and the Syrtis Parva. As we do not know the southern or eastern limits of this depression, we cannot determine the area which would thus be covered with water, but it would certainly be many thousands of square miles in extent, and the climatic effects would doubtless be sensible through a considerable part of Northern Africa, and possibly even in Europe. The rapid evaporation would require a constant influx of water from the Mediterranean, which might perhaps perceptibly influence the current through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Maritime Canals in Europe

A great navigable cut across the peninsula of Jutland, forming a new and short route between the North Sea and the Baltic, if not actually commenced, is determined upon. The motives for opening such a communication are perhaps rather to be found in political than in geographical or even commercial considerations, but it will not be without an important bearing on the material interests of all the countries to whose peoples it will furnish new facilities for communication and traffic.

The North Holland canal between the Helder and the port of Amsterdam, a distance of fifty miles, executed a few years since at a cost of $5,000,000, and with dimensions admitting the passage of a frigate, was a magnificent enterprise, but it is thrown quite into the shade by the shorter channel now in process of construction for bringing that important city into almost direct communication with the North Sea, and thus restoring to it something at least of its ancient commercial importance. The work involves some of the heaviest hydraulic operations yet undertaken, including the construction of great dams, locks, dikes, embankments, and the execution of draining works and deep cutting under circumstances of extreme difficulty. In the course of these labors many novel problems have presented themselves for practical solution by the ingenuity of modern engineers, and the now inventions and processes thus necessitated are valuable contributions to our means of physical improvement.

Cape Cod Canal

The opening of a navigable cut through the narrow neck which separates the southern part of Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts from the Atlantic, was long ago suggested, and there are few coast improvements on the Atlantic shores of the United States which are recommended by higher considerations of utility. It would save the most important coasting trade of the United States the long and dangerous navigation around Cape Cod, afford a new and safer entrance to Boston harbor for vessels from Southern ports, secure a choice of passages, thus permitting arrivals upon the coast and departures from it at periods when wind and weather might otherwise prevent them, and furnish a most valuable internal communication in case of coast blockade by a foreign power. The difficulties of the undertaking are no doubt formidable, but the expense of maintenance and the uncertainty of the effects of currents getting through the new strait are still more serious objections[4].

Changes in the Caspian

The Russian Government has contemplated the establishment of a nearly direct water communication between the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azoff, partly by natural and partly by artificial channels, and there are now navigable canals between the Don and the Volga; but these works, though not wanting in commercial and political interest, do not possess any geographical importance. It is, however, very possible to produce appreciable geographical changes in the basin of the Caspian by the diversion of the great rivers which flow from Central Russia. The surface of the Caspian is eighty-three feet below the level of the Sea of Azoff, and its depression has been explained upon the hypothesis that the evaporation exceeds the supply derived, directly and indirectly, from precipitation, though able physicists now maintain that the sinking of this sea is due to a subsidence of its bottom from geological causes. At Tsaritsin, the Don, which empties into the Sea of Azoff, and the Volga, which pours into the Caspian, approach each other within ten miles. Near this point, by means of open or subterranean canals, the Don might be turned into the Volga, or the Volga into the Don. If we suppose the whole or a large proportion of the waters of the Don to be thus diverted from their natural outlet and sent down to the Caspian, the equilibrium between the evaporation from that sea and its supply of water might be restored, or its level even raised above its ancient limits. If the Volga were turned into the Sea of Azoff, the Caspian would be reduced in dimensions until the balance between loss and gain should be re-established, and it would occupy a much smaller area than at present. Such changes in the proportion of solid and fluid surface would have some climatic effects in the territory which drains into the Caspian, and on the other hand, the introduction of a greater quantity of fresh water into the Sea of Azoff would render that gulf less saline, affect the character and numbers of its fish, and perhaps be not wholly without sensible influence on the water of the Black Sea.

Diversion of the Nile

Perhaps the most remarkable project of great physical change, proposed or threatened in earlier ages, is that of the diversion of the Nile from its natural channel, and the turning of its current into either the Libyan Desert or the Red Sea. The Ethiopian or Abyssinian princes more than once menaced the Memlouk sultans with the execution of this alarming project, and the fear of so serious an evil is said to have induced the Moslems to conciliate the Abyssinian kings by large presents, and by some concessions to the oppressed Christians of Egypt. Indeed, Arabian historians affirm that in the tenth century the Ethiopians dammed the river, and, for a whole year, cut off its waters from Egypt[5]. The probable explanation of this story is to be found in a season of extreme drought, such as have sometimes occurred in the valley of the Nile.

The Libyan Desert, above the junction of the two principal branches of the Nile at Khartum, is so much higher than the level of the river below that point, that there is no reason to believe a new channel for the united waters of the two streams could be found in that direction; but the Bahr-el-Abiad flows through, if it does not rise in, a great table-land, and some of its tributaries are supposed to communicate in the rainy season with branches of great rivers flowing in quite another direction. Hence it is probable that a portion at least of the waters of this great arm of the Nile--and perhaps a quantity the abstraction of which would be sensibly felt in Egypt--might be sent to the Atlantic by the Congo or Niger, lost in inland lakes and marshes in Central Africa, or employed to fertilize the Libyan sand wastes.

About the beginning of the sixteenth century, Albuquerque the "Terrible" revived the scheme of turning the Nile into the Red Sea, with the hope of destroying the transit trade through Egypt by way of Kosseir. In 1525 the King of Portugal was requested by the Emperor of Abyssinia to send him engineers for that purpose; a successor of that prince threatened to attempt the project about the year 1700, and even as late as the French occupation of Egypt, the possibility of driving out the intruder by this means was suggested in England.

It cannot be positively affirmed that the diversion of the waters of the Nile to the Red Sea is impossible. In the chain of mountains which separates the two valleys, Brown found a deep depression or wadi, extending from the one to the other, apparently at no great elevation above the bed of the river, but the height of the summit level was not measured. Admitting the possibility of turning the whole river into the Red Sea, let us consider the probable effect of the change.

First and most obvious is the total destruction of the fertility of Middle and Lower Egypt, the conversion of that part of the valley into a desert, and the extinction of its imperfect civilization, if not the absolute extirpation of its inhabitants. This is the calamity threatened by the Abyssinian princes and the ferocious Portuguese warrior, and feared by the Sultans of Egypt. Beyond these immediate and palpable consequences neither party then looked; but a far wider geographical area, and far more extensive and various human interests, would be affected by the measure. The spread of the Nile during the annual inundation covers, for many weeks, several thousand square miles with water, and at other seasons of the year pervades the same and even a larger area with moisture by infiltration. The abstraction of so large an evaporating surface from the southern shores of the Mediterranean could not but produce important effects on many meteorological phenomena, and the humidity, the temperature, the electrical condition and the atmospheric currents of North-eastern Africa might be modified to a degree that would sensibly affect the climate of Europe.

The Mediterranean, deprived of the contributions of the Nile, would require a larger supply, and of course a stronger current, of water from the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar; the proportion of salt it contains would be increased, and the animal life of at least its southern borders would be consequently modified; the current which winds along its southern, eastern, and north-eastern shores would be diminished in force and volume, if not destroyed altogether, and its basin and its harbors would be shoaled by no new deposits from the highlands of inner Africa.

In the much smaller Red Sea, more immediately perceptible, if not greater, effects, would be produced. The deposits of slime would reduce its depth, and perhaps, in the course of ages, divide it into an inland and an open sea, the former of which, receiving no supply from rivers, would, as in the case of the northern part of the Gulf of California, soon be dried up by evaporation, and its whole area added to the Africo-Arabian desert; the waters of the latter would be more or less freshened, and their immensely rich marine fauna and flora changed in character and proportion, and, near the mouth of the river, perhaps even destroyed altogether; its navigable channels would be altered in position and often quite obstructed; the flow of its tides would be modified by the new geographical conditions; the sediment of the river would form new coast-lines and lowlands, which would be covered with vegetation, and probably thereby produce sensible climatic changes.

Diversion of the Rhine

The interference of physical improvements with vested rights and ancient arrangements, is a more formidable obstacle in old countries than in new, to enterprises involving anything approaching to a geographical revolution. Hence such projects meet with stronger opposition in Europe than in America, and the number of probable changes in the face of nature in the former continent is proportionally less. I have noticed some important hydraulic improvements as already executed or in progress in Europe, and I may refer to some others as contemplated or suggested. One of these is the diversion of the Rhine from its present channel below Ragatz, by a cut through the narrow ridge near Sargans, and the consequent turning of its current into the Lake of Wallenstadt. This would be an extremely easy undertaking, for the ridge is but twenty feet above the level of the Rhine, and hardly two hundred yards wide. There is no present adequate motive for this diversion, but it is easy to suppose that it may become advisable within no long period. The navigation of the Lake of Constance is rapidly increasing in importance, and the shoaling of the eastern end of that lake by the deposits of the Rhine may require a remedy which can be found by no other so ready means as the discharge of that river into the Lake of Wallenstadt. The navigation of this latter lake is not important, nor is it ever likely to become so, because the rocky and precipitous character of its shores renders their cultivation impossible. It is of great depth, and its basin is capacious enough to receive and retain all the sediment which the Rhine would carry into it for thousands of years[6].

Improvements in North American Hydrography

We are not yet well enough acquainted with the geography of Central Africa, or of the interior of South America, to conjecture what hydrographical revolutions might there be wrought; but from the fact that many important rivers in both continents drain extensive table-lands, of moderate elevation and inclination, there is reason to suppose that important changes in the course of those rivers might be accomplished. Our knowledge of the drainage of North America is much more complete, and it is certain that there are numerous points within our territory where the courses of great rivers, or the discharge of considerable lakes, might be completely diverted, or at least partially directed into different channels.

The surface of Lake Erie is 565 feet above that of the Hudson at Albany, and it is so near the level of the great plain lying east of it, that it was found practicable to supply the western section of the canal, which unites it with the Hudson, with water from the lake, or rather from the Niagara which flows out of it. The greatest depth of water yet sounded in Lake Erie is but two hundred and seventy feet, the mean depth one hundred and twenty. Open canals parallel with the Niagara, or directly towards the Genesee, might be executed upon a scale which would exercise an important influence on the drainage of the lake, if there were any adequate motive for such an undertaking. Still easier would it be to enlarge the outlet for the waters of Lake Superior at the Saut St. Mary--where the river which drains the lake descends twenty-two feet in a single mile--and thus to produce incalculable effects, both upon that lake and upon the great chain of inland waters which communicate with it.

The summit level between the surface of Lake Michigan at its mean height and that of the River Des Plaines, a tributary of the Illinois, at a point some ten miles west of Chicago, is but ten and a half feet above the lake. The lake once discharged a part or the whole of its waters into the valley of the Des Plaines. A slight upheaval, at an unknown period, elevated the bed of the Des Plaines, and the prairie between it and the lake, to their present level, and the outflow of the lake was turned into a new direction. The bed of the Des Plaines is higher than the surface of the lake, and in recent times the Des Plaines, when at flood, has sent more or less of its waters across the ridge into the bed of the South Branch of Chicago River, and so into Lake Michigan.

A navigable channel has now been cut, admitting a constant flow of water from the lake, by the valley of the Des Plaines, into the Illinois. The mean discharge by this channel does not much exceed 23,000 cubic feet per minute, but it would be quite practicable to enlarge its cross-section indefinitely, and the flow through it might be so regulated as to keep the Illinois and the Mississippi at flood at all seasons of the year. The increase in the volume of these rivers would augment their velocity and their transporting power, and, consequently, the erosion of their banks and the deposit of slime in the Gulf of Mexico, while the opening of a communication between the lake and the affluents of the Mississippi, unobstructed except by locks, and the introduction of a large body of colder water into the latter, would very probably produce a considerable effect on the animal life that peoples them. The diversion of water from the common basin of the great lakes through a new channel, in a direction opposite to their present discharge, would not be absolutely without influence on the St. Lawrence, though probably this effect might be too small to be readily perceptible[7].

In an able and interesting article in a California magazine, Dr. Widney has suggested a probable cause and a possible remedy for the desiccation of south-eastern California referred to in a former chapter. The Colorado Desert which lies considerably below the level of the waters of the Gulf of California, and has an area of about 4,000 square miles, evidently once formed a part of that gulf. This northern extension of the gulf appears to have been cut off from the main body by deposits brought down by the great river Colorado, at no very distant period. These deposits at the same time turned the course of the river to the south, and it now enters the gulf at a point twenty miles distant from its original outlet.

When this northern arm of the gulf was cut off from the sea, and the river which once discharged itself into it was diverted, it was speedily laid dry by evaporation, and now yields no vapor to be condensed into fog, rain, and snow on the neighboring mountains, which are now parched and almost bare of vegetation.

The ancient bed of the river may still be traced, and in floods the Colorado still sends a part of its overflowing supply into its old channel, and for a time waters a portion of the desert. It is believed that the river might easily be turned back into its original course, and indeed nature herself seems to be now tending, by various spontaneous processes, to accomplish that object. The waters of the Colorado, though perhaps not sufficient to fill the basin and keep it at the sea-level in spite of the rapid evaporation in that climate[8], would at least create a permanent lake in the lower part of the depression, the evaporation from which, Dr. Widney suggests, might sensibly increase the humidity and lower the temperature of an extensive region which is now an arid and desolate wilderness.

Soil below Rock

One of the most singular changes of natural surface effected by man is that observed by Beechey and by Barth at Lin Tefla, and near Gebel Genunes, in the district of Ben Gasi, in Northern Africa. In this region the superficial stratum originally consisted of a thin sheet of rock covering a layer of fertile earth. This rock has been broken up, and, when not practicable to find use for it in fences, fortresses, or dwellings, heaped together in high piles, and the soil, thus bared of its stony shell, has been employed for agricultural purposes[9]. If we remember that gunpowder was unknown at the period when these remarkable improvements were executed, and of course that the rock could have been broken only with the chisel and wedge, we must infer that land had at that time a very great pecuniary value, and, of course, that the province, though now exhausted, and almost entirely deserted by man, had once a dense population.

Covering Rock with Earth

If man has, in some cases, broken up rock to reach productive ground beneath, he has, in many other instances, covered bare ledges, and sometimes extensive surfaces of solid stone, with fruitful earth, brought from no inconsiderable distance. Not to speak of the Campo Santo at Pisa, filled, or at least coated, with earth from the Holy Land, for quite a different purpose, it is affirmed that the garden of the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai is composed of Nile mud, transported on the backs of camels from the banks of that river. Parthey and older authors state that all the productive soil of the Island of Malta was brought over from Sicily[10]. The accuracy of the information may be questioned in both cases, but similar practices, on a smaller scale, are matter of daily observation in many parts of Southern Europe. Much of the wine of the Moselle is derived from grapes grown on earth carried high up the cliffs on the shoulders of men, and the steep terraced slopes of the Island of Teneriffe are covered with soil painfully scooped out from fissures in and between the rocks which have been laid bare by the destruction of the native forests[11]. In China, too, rock has been artificially covered with earth to an extent which gives such operations a real geographical importance, and the accounts of the importation of earth at Malta, and the fertilization of the rocks on Mount Sinai with slime from the Nile, may be not wholly without foundation.

Valleys in Deserts

In the latter case, indeed, river sediment might be very useful as a manure, but it could hardly be needed as a soil; for the growth of vegetation in the wadies of the Sinaitic Peninsula shows that the disintegrated rock of its mountains requires only water to stimulate it to considerable productiveness. The wadies present, not unfrequently, narrow gorges, which might easily be closed, and thus accumulations of earth, and reservoirs of water to irrigate it, might be formed which would convert many a square mile of desert into flourishing date gardens and cornfields. For example, not far from Wadi Feiran, on the most direct route to Wadi Esh-Sheikh, is a very narrow pass called by the Arabs El Bueb (El Bab) or, The Gate, which might be securely closed to a very considerable height, with little labor or expense. Above this pass is a wide and nearly level expanse, filled up to a certain regular level with deposits brought down by torrents before the Gate, or Bueb, was broken through, and they have now worn down a channel in the deposits to the bed of the wadi. If a dam were constructed at the pass, and reservoirs built to retain the winter rains, a great extent of [[[valley]] might be rendered cultivable.

Effects of Mining

The excavations made by man, for mining and other purposes, may occasion disturbance of the surface by the subsidence of the strata above them, as in the case of the mine of Fahlun, in Sweden, but such accidents have generally been too inconsiderable in extent to deserve notice in a geographical point of view[12]. It is said, however, that in many places in the mining regions of England alarming indications of a tendency to a wide dislocation of the superficial strata have manifested themselves. Indeed, when we consider the measure of the underground cavities which miners have excavated, we cannot but be surprised that grave catastrophes have not often resulted from the removal of the foundations on which the crust of our earth is laid. The 100,000,000 tons of coal yearly extracted from British mines require the withdrawal of subterranean strata equal to an area of 20,000 acres one yard deep, or 2,000 acres ten yards deep. These excavations have gone on for several years at this rate, and in smaller proportions for centuries. Hence, it cannot be doubted that by these and other like operations the earth has been undermined and honey-combed in many countries to an extent that may well excite serious apprehensions as to the stability of the surface. In any event such excavations may interfere materially with the course of subterranean waters, and it has even been conjectured that the removal of large bodies of metallic ore from their original deposits might, at least locally, affect in a sensible degree the magnetic and electrical condition of the earth's crust[13].

Hydraulic Mining

What is called hydraulic mining--a system substantially identical with that described in an interesting way by Pliny the elder, in Book XXXV. of his Natural History, as practised in his time in the gold mines of Spain[14]--is producing important geographical effects in California. Artificially directed currents of water have been long employed for washing down and removing masses of earth, but in the Californian mining the process is resorted to on a vastly greater scale than in any other modern engineering operations, and with results proportioned to the means. Brooks of considerable volume are diverted from their natural channels and conducted to great distances in canals or wooden aqueducts[15], and then directed against hills and large level surfaces of ground which it is necessary to remove to reach the gold-bearing strata, or which themselves contain deposits of the precious mineral[16]. Naked hills and fertile soils are alike washed away by the artificial torrent, and the material removed--vegetable mould, sand, gravel, pebbles--is carried down by the current and often spread over ground lying quite out of the reach of natural inundations, and burying it to the depth sometimes of twenty-five feet. An orchard valued at $60,000, and another estimated at not less than $200,000, are stated to have been thus sacrificed, and a report from the Agricultural Bureau at Washington computes the annual damage done by this mode of mining at the incredible sum of $12,000,000.

Accidental fires in mines of coal or lignite sometimes lead to consequences not only destructive to large quantities of valuable material, but which may, directly or indirectly, produce results important in geography. The coal is occasionally ignited by the miners' lights or other fires used by them, and certain kinds of this mineral, if long exposed to air in deserted galleries, may be spontaneously kindled. Under favorable circumstances, a stratum of coal will burn until it is exhausted, and a cavity may be burnt out in a few months which human labor could not excavate in many years. Wittwer informs us that a coal mine at St. Etienne in Dauphiny has been burning ever since the fourteenth century, and that a mine near Duttweiler, another near Epterode, and a third at Zwickau, have been on fire for two hundred years. Such conflagrations not only produce cavities in the earth, but communicate a perceptible degree of heat to the surface, and the author just quoted cites cases where this heat has ben advantageously employed in forcing vegetation.

Projects of Agricultural Improvements by Duponchel

Duponchel's schemes of agricultural improvement are so grandiose in their nature, so vast in their sphere of operation, and so important in their possible effects upon immense tracts of the earth's surface, that they must be considered as projects of geographical revolution, and they therefore merit more than a passing notice. In a memoir already quoted, and in a later work[17], this engineer proposes to construct artificial torrents for the purpose of grinding up calcareous rock, by rolling and attrition along their beds, and thus reducing it into a fine slime; and at the same time these torrents are to transport an argillaceous deposit which is to be mingled with the calcareous slime, and distributed over the Landes by watercourses constructed for the purpose. By this means, he supposes that a very fertile soil may be formed, and so graded in depositing as to secure for it a good drainage.

In order that nothing may be wanting to recommend the project, Duponchel suggests that, as some rivers of Western France are gold-bearing, it is probable that gold enough may be collected by washing the sands to reduce materially the expense of such operations.

In the Landes of Gascony alone, he believes that 3,000,000 acres, now barren, might be made productive at a moderate expense, and that similar methods might be advantageously employed in France over an extent of not less than 30,000,000 acres now almost wholly valueless.

The successful execution of the plan would increase the fertile territory of France by an area of four or five times the extent of Sicily or of Sardinia.

There seems to be no reason why the same method, applied for such different purposes, should necessarily be destructive in the one case while it is so advantageous in the other. A wiser economy might bring about a harmony of action between the miners and the agriculturists of California, and the soil which is removed by the former as an incumbrance, judiciously deposited, might become for the latter a source of wealth more solid and enduring than the gold now obtained by such a sacrifice of agricultural interests.

Action of Man on the Weather

Espy's well-known suggestion of the possibility of causing rain artificially, by kindling great fires, is not likely to be turned to practical account, but the speculations of this able meteorologist are not, for that reason, to be rejected as worthless. His labors exhibit great industry in the collection of facts, much ingenuity in dealing with them, remarkable insight into the laws of nature, and a ready perception of analogies and relations not obvious to minds less philosophically constituted. They have unquestionably contributed essentially to the advancement of meteorological science.

The possibility that the distribution and action of electricity may be considerably modified by long lines of iron railways and telegraph wires, is a kindred thought, and in fact rests much on the same foundation as the belief in the utility of lightning-rods, but such influence is too obscure and too uncertain to have been yet demonstrated, though many intelligent observers believe that sensible meteorological effects have been produced by it.

It is affirmed that battles and heavy cannonades are generally followed by rain and thunder-storms, and Powers has collected much evidence on this subject[18], but the proposition does not seem to be by any means established.

Resistance to Great Natural Forces

I have often spoken of the greater and more subtile natural forces, and especially of geological agencies, as powers beyond human guidance or resistance. This is no doubt at present true in the main, but man has shown that he is not altogether impotent to struggle with even these mighty servants of nature, and his unconscious as well as his deliberate action may in some cases have increased or diminished the intensity of their energies. It is a very ancient belief that earthquakes are more destructive in districts where the crust of the earth is solid and homogeneous, than where it is of a looser and more interrupted structure. Aristotle, Pliny the elder, and Seneca believed that not only natural ravines and caves, but quarries, wells, and other human excavations, which break the continuity of the terrestrial strata and facilitate the escape of elastic vapors, have a sensible influence in diminishing the violence and preventing the propagation of the earth-waves. In all countries subject to earthquakes this opinion is still maintained, and it is asserted that, both in ancient and in modern times, buildings protected by deep wells under or near them have suffered less from earthquakes than those the architects of which have neglected this precaution[19].

If the commonly received theory of the cause of earthquakes is true--that, namely, which ascribes them to the elastic force of gases accumulated or generated in subterranean reservoirs--it is evident that open channels of communication between such reservoirs and the atmosphere might serve as a harmless discharge of gases that would otherwise acquire destructive energy. The doubt is whether artificial excavations can be carried deep enough to reach the laboratory where the elastic fluids are distilled. There are, in many places, small natural crevices through which such fluids escape, and the source of them sometimes lies at so moderate a depth that they pervade the superficial soil and, as it were, transpire from it, over a considerable area. When the borer of an ordinary artesian well strikes into a cavity in the earth, imprisoned air often rushes out with great violence, and this has been still more frequently observed, in sinking mineral-oil wells. In this latter case, the discharge of a vehement current of inflammable fluid sometimes continues for hours and even longer periods. These facts seem to render it not wholly improbable that the popular belief of the efficacy of deep wells in mitigating the violence of earthquakes is well founded.

In general, light, wooden buildings are less injured by earthquakes than more solid structures of stone or brick, and it is commonly supposed that the power put forth by the earth-wave is too great to be resisted by any amount of weight or solidity of mass that man can pile up upon the surface. But the fact that in countries subject to earthquakes many very large and strongly constructed palaces, temples, and other monuments have stood for centuries, comparatively uninjured, suggests a doubt whether this opinion is sound. The earthquake of the first of November, 1755, which is asserted, though upon doubtful evidence, to have been felt over a twelfth part of the earth's surface, was among the most violent of which we have any clear and distinct account, and it seems to have exerted its most destructive force at Lisbon. It has often been noticed as a remarkable fact, that the mint, a building of great solidity, was almost wholly unaffected by the shock which shattered every house and church in the city, and its escape from the common ruin can hardly be accounted for except upon the supposition that its weight, compactness, and strength of material enabled it to resist an agitation of the earth which overthrew all weaker structures. On the other hand, a stone pier in the harbor of Lisbon, on which thousands of people had taken refuge, sank with its foundations to a great depth during the same earthquake; and it is plain that where subterranean cavities exist, at moderate depths, the erection of heavy masses upon them would tend to promote the breaking down of the strata which roof them over.

No physicist, I believe, has supposed that man can avert the eruption of a volcano or diminish the quantity of melted rock which it pours out of the bowels of the earth; but it is not always impossible to divert the course of even a large current of lava. "The smaller streams of lava near Catania," says Ferrara, in describing the great eruption of 1669, "were turned from their course by building dry walls of stone as a barrier against them. ... It was proposed to divert the main current from Catania, and fifty men, protected by hides, were sent with hooks and iron bars to break the flank of the stream near Belpasso[20].

When the opening was made, fluid lava poured forth and flowed rapidly towards Paterno; but the inhabitants of that place, not caring to sacrifice their own town to save Catania, rushed out in arms and put a stop to the operation."[21] In the eruption of Vesuvius in 1794, the viceroy saved from impending destruction the town of Portici, and the valuable collection of antiquities then deposited there but since removed to Naples, by employing several thousand men to dig a ditch above the town, by which the lava current was carried off in another direction[22].

Incidental Effects of Human Action

I have more than once alluded to the collateral and unsought consequences of human action as being often more momentous than the direct and desired results. There are cases where such incidental, or, in popular speech, accidental, consequences, though of minor importance in themselves, serve to illustrate natural processes; others, where, by the magnitude and character of the material traces they leave behind them, they prove that man, in primary or in more advanced stages of social life, must have occupied particular districts for a longer period than has been supposed by popular chronology. "On the coast of Jutland," says Forchhammer, "wherever a bolt from a wreck or any other fragment of iron is deposited in the beach sand, the particles are cemented together, and form a very solid mass around the iron. A remarkable formation of this sort was observed a few years ago in constructing the sea-wall of the harbor of Elsineur. This stratum, which seldom exceeded a foot in thickness, rested upon common beach sand, and was found at various depths, less near the shore, greater at some distance from it. It was composed of pebbles and sand, and contained a great quantity of pins, and some coins of the reign of Christian IV., between the beginning and the middle of the seventeenth century. Here and there, a coating of metallic copper had been deposited by galvanic action, and the presence of completely oxydized metallic iron was often detected. Investigation made it in the highest degree probable that this formation owed its origin to the street sweepings of the town, which had been thrown upon the beach, and carried off and distributed by the waves over the bottom of the harbor."[23] These and other familiar observations of the like sort show that a sandstone reef, of no inconsiderable magnitude, might originate from the stranding of a ship with a cargo of iron[24], or from throwing the waste of an establishment for working metals into running water which might carry it to the sea.

Parthey records a singular instance of unforeseen mischief from an interference with the arrangements of nature. A landowner at Malta possessed a rocky plateau sloping gradually towards the sea, and terminating in a precipice forty or fifty feet high, through natural openings in which the sea-water flowed into a large cave under the rock. The proprietor attempted to establish salt-works on the surface, and cut shallow pools in the rock for the evaporation of the water. In order to fill the salt-pans more readily, he sank a well down to the cave beneath, through which he drew up water by a windlass and buckets. The speculation proved a failure, because the water filtered through the porous bottom of the pans, leaving little salt behind. But this was a small evil, compared with other destructive consequences that followed. When the sea was driven into the cave by violent west or north-west winds, it shot a jet d'eau through the well to the height of sixty feet, the spray of which was scattered far and wide over the neighboring gardens and blasted the crops. The well was now closed with stones, but the next winter's storms hurled them out again, and spread the salt spray over the grounds in the vicinity as before. Repeated attempts were made to stop the orifice, but at the time of Parthey's visit the sea had thrice burst through, and it was feared that the evil was without remedy[25].

I have mentioned the great extent of the heaps of oyster and other shells left by the American Indians on the Atlantic coast of the United States. Some of the Danish kitchen-middens, which closely resemble them, are a thousand feet long, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred wide, and from six to ten high. These piles have an importance as geological witnesses, independent of their bearing upon human history. Wherever the coast line appears, from other evidence, to have remained unchanged in outline and elevation since they were accumulated, they are found near the sea, and not more than about ten feet above its level. In some cases they are at a considerable distance from the beach, and in these instances, so far as yet examined, there are proofs that the coast has advanced in consequence of upheaval or of fluviatile or marine deposit. Where they are altogether wanting, the coast seems to have sunk or been washed away by the sea. The constancy of these observations justifies geologists in arguing, where other evidence is wanting, the advance of land or sea respectively, or the elevation or depression of the former, from the position or the absence of these heaps alone.

Every traveller in Italy is familiar with Monte Testaccio, the mountain of potsherds, at Rome[26]; but this deposit, large as it is, shrinks into insignificance when compared with masses of similar origin in the neighborhood of older cities. The castaway pottery of ancient towns in Magna Grecia composes strata of such extent and thickness that they have been dignified with the appellation of the ceramic formation. The Nile, as it slowly changes its bed, exposes in its banks masses of the same material, so vast that the population of the world during the whole historical period would seem to have chosen this valley as a general deposit for its broken vessels.

The fertility imparted to the banks of the Nile by the water and the slime of the inundations, is such that manures are little employed. Hence much domestic waste, which would elsewhere be employed to enrich the soil, is thrown out into vacant places near the town. Hills of rubbish are thus piled up which astonish the traveller almost as much as the solid pyramids themselves. The heaps of ashes and other household refuse collected on the borders and within the limits of Cairo were so large, that the removal of them by Ibrahim Pacha has been looked upon as one of the great works of the age.

These heaps formed almost a complete rampart around the city, and impeded both the circulation of the air and the communication between Cairo and its suburbs. At two points these accumulations are said to have risen to the incredible height of between six and seven hundred feet; and these two heaps covered two hundred and fifty acres[27]. During the occupation of Cairo by the French, the invaders constructed redoubts on these hillocks which commanded the city. They were removed by Mehemet Ali, and the material was employed in raising the level of low grounds in the environs[28].

In European and American cities, street sweepings and other town refuse are used as manure and spread over the neighboring fields, the surface of which is perceptibly raised by them, by vegetable deposit, and by other effects of human industry, and in spite of all efforts to remove the waste, the level of the ground on which large towns stand is constantly elevated. The present streets of Rome are twenty feet, and in many places much more, above those of the ancient city. The Appian Way between Rome and Albano, when cleared out a few years ago, was found buried four or five feet deep, and the fields along the road were elevated nearly or quite as much. The floors of many churches in Italy, not more than six or seven centuries old, are now three or four feet below the adjacent streets, though it is proved by excavations that they were built as many feet above them[29].

Nothing Small in Nature

It is a legal maxim that "the law concerneth not itself with trifles," de minimis non curat lex; but in the vocabulary of nature, little and great are terms of comparison only; she knows no trifles, and her laws are as inflexible in dealing with an atom as with a continent or a planet[30].

The human operations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, therefore, do act in the ways ascribed to them, though our limited faculties are at present, perhaps forever, incapable of weighing their immediate, still more their ultimate consequences. But our inability to assign definite values to these causes of the disturbance of natural arrangements is not a reason for ignoring the existence of such causes in any general view of the relations between man and nature, and we are never justified in assuming a force to be insignificant because its measure is unknown, or even because no physical effect can now be traced to it as its origin. The collection of phenomena must precede the analysis of them, and every new fact, illustrative of the action and reaction between humanity and the material world around it, is another step towards the determination of the great question, whether man is of material nature or above her.


1. ^Corso Di Geologia, Milano, 1873, vol ii., cap. xxxi., section 1327.

2. ^According to an article by Ascherson, in Petermann's Mitthielungen, vol. xvii., p. 247, the sea-grass floras of the opposite sides of the Isthmus of Suez are as different as possible. It does not appear whether they have yet intermixed.

3. ^The Dead Sea a new Route to India. 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1855.

4. ^The opening of a channel across Cape Cod would have, though perhaps to a smaller extent, the same effects in interchanging the animal life of the southern and northern shores of the isthmus, as in the case of the Suez Canal; for although the breadth of Cape Cod does not anywhere exceed twenty miles, and is in some places reduced to one, it appears from the official reports on the Natural History of Massachusetts, that the population of the opposite waters differs widely in species.

Not having the original documents at hand, I quote an extract from the Report on the Invertebrate Animals of Mass., given by Thoreau, Excursions, p. 69: "The distribution of the marine shells is well worthy of notice as a geological fact. Cape Cod, the right arm of the Commonwealth, reaches out into the ocean some fifty or sixty miles. It is nowhere many miles wide; but this narrow point of land has hitherto proved a barrier to the migration of many species of mollusca. Several genera and numerous species, which are separated by the intervention of only a few miles of land, are effectually prevented from mingling by the Cape, and do not pass from one side to the other. ... Of the one hundred and ninety-seven marine species, eighty-three do not pass to the south shore, and fifty are not found on the north shore of the Cape."

Probably the distribution of the species of mollusks is affected by unknown local conditions, and therefore an open canal across the Cape might not make every species that inhabits the waters on one side common to those of the other; but there can be no doubt that there would be a considerable migration in both directions.

The fact stated in the report may suggest an important caution in drawing conclusions upon the relative age of formations from the character of their fossils. Had a geological movement or movements upheaved to different levels the bottoms of waters thus separated by a narrow isthmus, and dislocated the connection between those bottoms, naturalists, in after ages, reasoning from the character of the fossil faunas, might have assigned them to different, and perhaps very widely distant, periods.

5. ^"Some haue writte, that by certain kings inhabiting aboue, the Nilus should there be stopped; & at a time prefixt, let loose vpon a certaine tribute payd them by the Aegyptians. The error springing perhaps fro a truth (as all wandring reports for the most part doe) in that the Sultan doth pay a certaine annuall summe to the Abissin Emperour for not diuerting the course of the Riuer, which (they say) he may, or impouerish it at the least."--George Sandys, A Relation of a Journey, etc., p. 98. See, also, Vansles, Voyage en Egypte, p. 61.

6. ^Many geographers suppose that the dividing ridge between the Lake of Wallenstadt and the bed of the Rhine at Sargans is a fluviatile deposit, which has closed a channel through which the Rhine anciently discharged a part or the whole of its waters into the lake. In the flood of 1868, the water of the Rhine rose to the level of the railway station at Sargans, and for some days there was fear of the giving way of the barrier and the diversion of the current of the river into the lake.

7. ^From Reports of the Canal Commissioners of the State of Illinois, and especially from a very interesting private letter from William Gooding, Esq., an eminent engineer, which I regret I have not space to print in full, I learn that the length of the present canal, from the lake to the River Illinois, is 101 miles, with a total descent of a trifle more than 145 feet, and that it is proposed to enlarge this channel to the width of one hundred and sixty feet, with a minimum depth of seven, and to create a slack-water navigation in the Illinois by the construction of five dams, one of which is already completed. The descent for the outlet of the canal at La Salle on the Illinois to the Mississippi is twenty-eight feet, the distance being 230 miles. The canal thus enlarged would cost about $16,000,000, and it would establish a navigation for vessels of 1,200 to 1,500 tons burden between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, and consequently, by means of the great lakes and the Welland canal, between the St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico.

8. ^The thermometer sometimes rises to 120 degrees F. at Fort Yuma, at the S. E. angle of California in N. L. 33 degrees.

9. ^Barth, Wanderungen durch die Kusten des Mittelmeeres, i., p. 853. In a note on page 380, of the same volume, Barth cites Strabo as asserting that a similar practice prevailed in Iapygia; but the epithet [word in Greek: traxeia], applied by Strabo to the original surface, does not neceasarily imply that it was covered with a continuous stratum of rock.

10. ^Parthey, Wanderungen durch Sicilen und die Levante, i., p. 404.

11. ^Mantegazza, Rio de la Plata e Teneriffa, p. 567.

12. ^In March, 1873, the imprudent extension of the excavations in a slate mine near Morzine, in Savoy, occasioned the fall of a mass of rock measuring more than 700,000 yards in cubical contents. A forest of firs was destroyed, and a hamlet of twelve houses crushed and buried by the slide.

13. ^The exhaustion of the more accessible deposits of coal and other minerals has compelled the miners in Belgium, England, and other countries, to carry their operations to great depths below the surface. At the colliery Des Viviers, at Cilly near Charleroi, in Belgium, coal is worked at the depth of 2,820 feet, and one pit has been sunk to the depth of 3,411 feet. It is supposed that the internal heat of the earth will render mining impossible below 4,000 feet. At Clifford Amalgamated Mines, in Cornwall, the temperature at 1,590 feet stood at 100 degrees, but after the shaft had remained a year open it fell to 83 degrees. In another Cornish mine men work at from 110 degrees to 120 degrees, but only twenty minutes at a time, and with cold water thrown frequently over them.--The last Thirty Years in Mining Districts, p. 95.

Stopponi mentions an abandoned mine at Huttenberg, in Bohemia, of the depth of 3,775 feet.--Corso di Geologia, i., p. 258.

14. ^I have little doubt that the hydraulic mining in Gaul, alluded to by Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, v. 27, as merely a mode of utilizing the effects of water flowing in its natural channels, was really the artificial method described by Pliny.

15. ^In 1867 there were 6,000 miles (including branches) of artificial water-courses employed for mining purposes in California. The flumes of these canals are often of sheet-iron, and in some places are carried considerable distances at a height of 250 feet above the ground.--Raymond, Mineral Statistics west of the Rocky Mountains, 1870, p. 476.

16. ^The water is sometimes driven through iron tubes under a hydrostatic pressure of several hundred feet, with a force which cuts away rock of considerable solidity almost as easily as hard earth. In this way of using water, the cutting force might, doubtless, be greatly augmented by introducing sand or gravel into the current.

17. ^Traite d'Hydraulique et de Geologie Agricole, 1868.

18. ^War and the Weather, or the Artificial Production of Rain, Chicago, 1871. Paifer proposed, as early as 1814, arrangements for producing rain by firing cannon and exploding shells in the air. Ein wunderbarer Traum die Frucht, barkeit durch willkurlichen Regen zu befordern, Metz, 1814. See, on the question of the possibility of influencing the weather by artificial means, London Quarterly Journal of Science, xxix., p. 126, and Nature, Feb. 16, 1871, p. 306.

19. ^Landgrebe, Geschichte der Vulkane, ii., pp. 19, 20.

20. ^Soon after the current issues from the volcano, it is covered above and at its sides, and finally in front, with scoriae, formed by the cooling of the exposed surface, which bury and conceal the fluid mass. The stream rolls on under the coating, and between the walls of scoriae, and it was the lateral crust which was broken through by the workmen mentioned in the text.

The distance to which lava flows, before its surface begns to solidify, depends on its volume, its composition, its temperature and that of the air, the force with which it is ejected, and the inclination of the declivity over which it runs. In most cases it is difficult to approach the current at points where it is still entirely fluid, and hence opportunities of observing it in that condition are not very frequent. In the eruption of February, 1850, on the east side of Vesuvius, I went quite up to one of the outlets. The lava shot out of the orifice upwards with great velocity, like the water from a fountain, in a stream eight or ten feet in diameter, throwing up occasionally volcanic bombs three or four feet in diameter, which exploded at the height of eight or ten yards, but it immediately spread out on the declivity down which it flowed, to the width of several yards. It continued red-hot in broad daylight, and without a particle of scoriae on its surface, for a course of at least one hundred yards. At this distance, the suffocating, sulphurous vapors became so dense that I could follow the current no farther. The undulations of the surface were like those of a brook swollen by rain. I estimated the height of the waves at five or six inches by a breadth of eighteen or twenty. To the eye, the fluidity of the lava seemed as perfect as that of water, but masses of cold lava weighing ten or fifteen pounds floated upon it like cork.

The heat emitted by lava currents seems extremely small when we consider the temperature required to fuse such materials and the great length of time they take in cooling. I saw at Nicolosi ancient oil-jars, holding a hundred gallons or more, which had been dug out from under a stream of old lava above that town. They had been very slightly covered with volcanic ashes before the lava flowed over them, but the lead with which holes in them had been plugged was not melted. The current that buried Mompiliere in 1669 was thirty-five feet thick, but marble statues, in a church over which the lava formed an arch, were found uncalcined and uninjured in 1704, See Scrope, Volcanoes, chap. vi. Section 6.

21. ^Ferrara, Descrizione dell' Etna, p. 108.

22. ^Landgrebe, Naturgeschichte der Vulkane, ii., p. 82.

23. ^Geognostische Studien am Meeres Ufer, Leonhard und Bronn, 1841, pp. 25, 26.

24. ^Kohl, Schleswig-Holstein, ii., p. 45.

25. ^Wanderungen durch Sicilien und die Levante, i., p. 406.

26. ^Untill recently this hillock was supposed to consist of shards of household pottery broken in using, but it now appears to be ascertained that it is composed of fragments of earthenware broken in transportation from the place of manufacture to the emporium on the Tiber where such articles were landed.

27. ^Clot Bey, Egypte, i., p. 277.

28. ^Egypt manufactures annually about 1,200,000 pounds of nitre, by lixiviating the ancient and modern rubbish-heaps around the towns.

29. ^Rafinesque maintained many years ago that there was a continual deposition of dust on the surface of the earth from the atmosphere, or from cosmical space, sufficient in quantity to explain no small part of the elevation referred to in the text. Observations during the eclipse of Dec. 22, 1870, led some astronomers to believe that the appearance of the corona was dependent upon or modified by cosmical dust or matter in a very attenuated form diffused through space.

Tyndall has shown by optical tests that the proportion of solid matter suspended or floating in common air is very considerable, and there is abundant other evidence to the name purpose. Ehrenberg has found African and even American infusoria in dust transplanted by winds and let fall in Europe, and Schliemann offers that the quantity of dust brought by the scirocco from Africa is so great, that by cutting holes in the naked rocks of Malta enough of Libyan transported earth can be caught and retained, in the course of fourteen years, to form a soil fit for cultivation.--Beilage zur Allgemeinen Zeitung, Mar. 24, 1870.

30. ^One of the sublimest, and at the same time most fearful suggestions that have been prompted by the researches of modern science, was made by Babbage in the ninth chapter of his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. I have not the volume at hand, but the following explanation will recall to the reader, if it does not otherwise make intelligible, the suggestion I refer to:

No atom can be disturbed in place, or undergo any change of temperature, of electrical state, or other material condition, without affecting, by attraction or repulsion or other communication, the surrounding atoms. These, again, by the same law, transmit the influence to other atoms, and the impulse thus given extends through the whole material universe. Every human movement, every organic act, every volition, passion, or emotion, every intellectual process, is accompanied with atomic disturbance, and hence every such movement, every such act or process, affects all the atoms of universal matter. Though action and reaction are equal, yet reaction does not restore disturbed atoms to their former place and condition, and consequently the effects of the least material change are never cancelled, but in some way perpetuated, so that no action can take place in physical, moral, or intellectual nature, without leaving all matter in a different state from what it would have been if such action had not occurred. Hence, to use language which I have employed on another occasion: there exists, not alone in the human conscience or in the omniscience of the Creator, but in external nature, an ineffaceable, imperishable record, possibly legible even to created intelligence, of every act done, every word uttered, nay, of every wish and purpose and thought conceived, by mortal man, from the birth of our first parent to the final extinction of our race; so that the physical traces of our most secret sins shall last until time shall be merged in that eternity of which not science, but religion alone assumes to take cognisance.

This is a chapter from Earth as Modified by Human Action, The (historical e-book).
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Cleveland, C. (2007). Earth as Modified by Human Action, The: Chapter 06 (historical). Retrieved from


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