|[Absorptionstheorie] [Astronomishe Theorie] [Geologische Theorie] [Wärmeabsorption in Gasen]
Climate and Time in their Geological Relations.
A Theory of Secular Changes of the Earth's Climate.
The Fundamental Problem of Geology — The investigation of the successive changes and modifications which the earth's crust has undergone during past ages is the province of geology. It will be at once admitted that an acquaintance with the agencies by means of which those successive changes and modifications were effected, is of paramount importance to the geologist. What, then, are those agencies? Although volcanic and other subterranean eruptions, earthquakes, upheavals, and subsidences of the land have taken place in all ages, yet no truth is now better established than that it is not by these convulsions and cataclysms of nature that those great changes were effected. It was rather by the ordinary agencies that we see every day at work around us, such as rain, rivers, heat and cold, frost and snow. The valleys were not produced by violent dislocations, nor the hills by sudden upheavals, but were actually carved out of the solid rock, silently and gently, by the agencies to which we ban ref6rred. "The tools," to quote the words of Professor Geikie, "by which this great work has been done are of the simplest and most every-day order-the air, rain, frosts, springs, brooks, rivers, glaciers, icebergs, and the sea. These tools have been at work from the earliest times of which any geological record has been preserved. Indeed, it is out of the accumulated chips and dust which they have made, afterwards hardened into solid rock and upheaved, that the very framework of our continents has been formed."
It will be observed – and this is the point requiring particular attention – that the agencies referred to are the ordinary meteorological or climatic agencies. In fact, it is these agencies which constitute climate. The various peculiarities or modifications of climate result from a preponderance of one or more of these agencies over the rest. When heat, for example, predominates, we have a hot or tropical climate. When cold and frost predominate, we have a rigorous or arctic climate. With moisture in excess, we have a damp and rainy climate; and so on. But this is not all. These climatic agencies are not only the factors which carved out the rocky face of the globe into hill and dale, and spread over the whole a mantle of soil; but by them are determined the character of the flora and fauna which exist on that soil. The flora and fauna of a district are determined mainly by the character of the climate, and not by the nature of the soil, or the conformation of the ground. It is from difference of climate that tropical life differs so much from arctic, and both these from the life of temperate regions. It is climate, and climate alone, that causes the orange and the vine to blossom, and the olive to flourish, in the south, but denies them to the north, of Europe. It is climate, and climate alone, that enables the forest tree to grow on the plain, but not on the mountain top; that causes wheat and barley to flourish on the mainland of Scotland, but not on the steppes of Siberia.
Again, if we compare flat countries with mountainous, highlands with lowlands, or islands with continents, we shall find that difference of climatic conditions is the chief reason why life in the one differs so much from life in the other. And if we turn to the sea we find that organic life is there as much under the domain of climate as on the land, only the conditions are much less complex. For in the case of the sea, difference in the temperature of the water may be said to constitute almost the only difference of climatic conditions. If there is one fact more clearly brought out than another by the recent deep-sea explorations, it is this, that nothing exercises 80 much influence on organic life in the ocean as the temperature of the water. In fact, so much is this the case, that warm zones were found to be almost equivalent to zones of life. It was found that even the enormous pressure at the bottom of the ocean does not exercise so much influence on life as the temperature of the water. There are few, I presume, who reflect on the subject that will not readily admit that, whether as regards the great physical changes which are taking place on the surface of our globe, or as regards the growth and distribution of plant and animal life, the ordinary climatic agents are the real agents at work, and that, compared with them, all other agencies sink into insignificance.
It will also be admitted that what holds true of the present holds equally true of the past. Climatic agents are not only now the most important and influential; they have been so during all past geological ages. They were so during the Cainozoic as much as during the present; and there is no reason for supposing they were otherwise during the remoter Mesozoic and Palaeozoic epochs. They have been the principal factors concerned in that long succession of events and changes which have taken place since the time of the solidification of the earth's crust. The stratified rocks of the globe contain all the records which now remain of their action, and it is the special duty of the geologist to investigate and read those records. It will be at once admitted that in order to a proper understanding of the events embodied in these records, an acquaintance with the agencies by which they were produced is of the utmost importance. In fact, it is only by this means that we can hope to arrive at their rational explanation. A knowledge of the agents, and of the laws of their operations, is, in all the physical sciences, the means by which we arrive at a rational comprehension of the effects produced. If we have before us some complex and intricate effects which have been produced by heat, or by light, or by electricity, &c., in order to understand them we must make ourselves acquainted with the agents by which they were produced and the laws of their action. If the effects to be considered be, for example, those of heat, then we must make ourselves acquainted with this agent and its laws. If they be of electricity, then a knowledge of electricity and its laws becomes requisite.
This is no mere arbitrary mode of procedure which may be adopted in one science and rejected in another. It is in reality a necessity of thought arising out of the very constitution of our intellect; for the objective law of the agent is the conception by means of which the effects are subjectively united in a rational unity. We may describe, arrange, and classify the effects as we may, but without a knowledge of the laws of the agent we can have no rational unity. We have not got the higher conception by which they can be comprehended. It is this relationship between the effects and the laws of the agent, a knowledge of which really constitutes a science. We might examine, arrange, and describe for a thousand years the effects produced by heat, and still we should have no science of heat unless we had a knowledge of the laws of that agent. The effects would never be seen to be necessarily connected with anything known to us; we could not connect them with any rational principle from which they could be deduced a priori. The same remarks hold, of course, equally true of all sciences, in which the things to be considered stand in the relationship of cause and effect. Geology is no exception. It is not like systematic botany, a mere science of classification. It has to explain and account for effects produced ; and these effects can no more be explained without a knowledge of the laws of the agents which produced them, than can the effects of heat without a knowledge of the laws of heat. The only distinction between geology and heat, light, electricity, &c., is, that in geology the effects to be explained have almost all occurred already, whereas in these other sciences effects actually taking place have to be explained. But this distinction is of no importance to our present purpose, tor effects which have already occurred can no more be explained without a knowledge or the laws of the agent which produced them than can effects which are in the act of occurring. It is, moreover, not strictly true that all the effects to be explained by the geologist are already past. It falls within the scope of his science to account for the changes which are at present taking place on the earth's crust.
No amount of description, arrangement, and classification, however perfect or accurate, of the facts which come under the eye of the geologist can ever constitute a science of geology any more than a description and classification of the effects of heat could constitute a science of heat. This will, no doubt, be admitted by every one. who reflects upon the subject, and it will be maintained that geology, like every other science, must possess principles applicable to the facts. But here confusion and misconception will arise unless there be distinct and definite ideas as to what ought to constitute a geological principle. It is not every statement or rule that may apply to a great many facts, which will constitute a geological principle. A geological principle must bear the same characteristics as the principles of those sciences to which we have referred. What, then, is the nature of the principles of light, heat, electricity, &c.? The principles of heat are the laws of heat. The principles of electricity are the laws of electricity. And these laws are nothing more nor less than the ways according to which these agents produce their effects. The principles of geology are therefore the laws of geology. But the laws of geology must be simply the laws of the geological agents, or, in other words, the methods by which they produce their effects. Any other so called principle can be nothing more than an empirical rule, adopted for convenience. Possessing no rationality in itself, it cannot be justly regarded as a principle. In order to rationality the principle must be either resolvable into, or logically deducible from, the laws of the agents. Unless it possess this quality we cannot give the explanation a priori.
The reason of all this is perfectly obvious. The things to be explained are effects; and the relationship between cause and effect affords the subjective connection between the principle and the explanation. The explanation follows from the principle simply as the effect results from the laws of the agent or cause.
Theories of Geological Climate. — We have already seen that the geological agents are chiefly the ordinary climatic agents. Consequently, the main principles of geology must be the laws of the climatic agents, or some logical deductions from them. It therefore follows that, in order to a purely scientific geology, the grand problem must be one of geological climate. It is through geological climate that we can hope to arrive ultimately at principles which will afford a rational explanation of the multifarious facts which have been accumulating during the past century. The facts of geology are as essential to the establishment of the principles, as the facts of heat, light, and electricity are essential to the establishment of the principles of these sciences.
A theory of geological climate devised without reference to the facts would be about as worthless as a theory of heat or of electricity devised without reference to the facts of these sciences. It has all along been an admitted opinion among geologists that the climatic condition of our globe has not, during past ages, been uniformly the same as at present. For a long time it was supposed that during the Cambrian, Silurian, and other early geological periods, the climate of our globe was much hotter than now, and that ever since it has been gradually becoming cooler. And this high temperature of Palaeozoic ages was generally referred to the influence of the earth's internal heat. It has, however, been proved by Sir William Thomson that the general climate of our globe could not have been sensibly affected by internal heat at any time more than ten thousand years after the commencement of the solidification of the surface. This physicist has proved that the present influence of internal heat on the temperature amounts to about only 1.75th of a degree. Not only is the theory of internal heat now generally abandoned, but it is admitted that we have no good geological evidence that climate was much hotter during Palaeozoic ages than now; and much less, that it has been becoming uniformly colder.
The great discovery of the glacial epoch, and more lately that of a mild and temperate condition of climate extending during the Miocene and other periods to North Greenland, have introduced a complete revolution of ideas in reference to geological climate. Those discoveries showed that our globe has not only undergone changes o£ climate, but changes of the most extraordinary character. They showed that at one time not only an arctic condition of climate prevailed in our island, but that the greater part of the temperate region down to comparatively low latitudes was buried under ice, while at other periods Greenland and the Arctic regions, probably up to the North Pole, were not only free from ice, but were covered with a rich and luxuriant vegetation.
To account for these extraordinary changes of climate has generally been regarded as the most difficult and perplexing problem which has fallen to the lot of the geologist. Some have attempted to explain them by a11uming a displacement o£ the earth's axis of rotation in consequence of the uprising of large mountain masses on some part of the earth's surface. But it has been shown by Professor Airy, Sir William Thomson, and others, that the earth's equatorial protuberance is such that no geological change on its surface could ever possibly alter the position of the axis of rotation to an extent which could at all sensibly affect climate. Others, again, have tried to explain the change of climate by supposing, with Poisson, that the earth during its past geological history may have passed through hotter and· colder parts of space. This is not a very satisfactory hypothesis. There is no doubt a difference in the quantity of force in the form of heat passing through different parts of space; but space itself is not a substance which can possibly be either cold or hot. If, therefore, we were to adopt this hypothesis, we must assume that the earth during the hot periods must have been in the vicinity of some other great source of heat and light besides the sun. But the proximity of a mass of such magnitude as would be sufficient to affect to any great extent the earth's climate would, by its gravity, seriously disarrange the mechanism of our solar system. Consequently, if our solar system had ever, during any former period of its history, really come into the vicinity of such a mass, the orbits of the planets ought at the present day to afford some evidence of it. But again, in order to account for a cold period, such as the glacial epoch, we have to assume that the earth must have come into the vicinity of a cold body. But recent discoveries in regard to inter-glacial periods are wholly irreconcilable with this theory.
A change in the obliquity of the ecliptic has frequently been, and still is, appealed to as an explanation of geological climate. This theory appears, however, to be beset by a twofold objection: (1), it can be shown from celestial mechanics, that the variations in the obliquity of the ecliptic must always have been so small that they could not materially affect the climatic condition of the globe; and (2), even admitting that the obliquity could change to an indefinite extent, it can be shown that no increase or decrease, however great, could possibly account for either the glacial epoch or a warm temperate condition of climate in polar regions.
The theory that the sun is a variable star, and that the glacial epochs of the geologists may correspond to periods of decrease in the sun's heat, has lately been advanced. This theory is also open to two objections: (1), a general diminution of heat never could produce a glacial epoch; and (2), even if it could, it would not explain interglacial periods.
The only other theory on the subject worthy of notice is that of Sir Charles Lyell. Those extraordinary changes of climate are, according to his theory, attributed to differences in the distribution of land and water. Sir Charles concludes that, were the land all collected round the poles, while the equatorial zones were occupied by the ocean, the general temperature would be lowered to an extent that would account for the glacial epoch. And, on the other hand, were the land all collected along the equator, while the polar regions were covered with sea, this would raise the temperature of the globe to an enormous extent. It will be shown in subsequent chapters that this theory does not duly take into account the prodigious influence exerted on climate by means of the heat conveyed from equatorial to temperate and polar regions by means of ocean currents. In Chapters II. and III. I have endeavoured to prove (1), that were it not for the heat conveyed from equatorial to temperate and polar regions by this means, the thermal condition of the globe would be totally different from what it is at present; and (2), that the effect of placing all the land along the equator would be diametrically the opposite of that which Sir Charles supposes.
But supposing that difference in the distribution of land and water would produce the effects attributed to it, nevertheless it would not account for those extraordinary changes of climate which have occurred during geological epochs. Take, for example, the glacial epoch. Geologists almost all agree that little or no change has taken place in the relative distribution of sea and land since that epoch. All our main continents and islands not only existed then as they do now, but every year is adding to the a111ount of evidence which goes to show that so recent, geologically considered, is the glacial epoch that the very contour of the surface was pretty much the same then as it is at the present day. But this is not all; for even should we assume (1), that a difference in the distribution of sea and land would produce the effects referred to, and (2), that we had good geological evidence to show that at a very recent period a form of distribution existed which would produce the necessary glacial conditions, still the glacial epoch would not be explained, for the phenomena of warm inter-glacial periods would completely upset the theory.
Geological Climate depending on Astronomical Causes. — For a good many years past an impression has been gradually gaining ground amongst geologists that the glacial epoch, as well as the extraordinary condition of climate which prevailed in arctic regions during the Miocene and other periods, must some way or other have resulted from a cosmical cause; but all seemed at a loss to conjecture what that cause could possibly be. It was apparent that the cosmical cause must be sought for in the relations of our earth to the sun; but a change in the obliquity of the ecliptic and the eccentricity of the earth's orbit are the only changes from which any sensible effect on climate could possibly be expected to result. It was shown, however, by Laplace that the change of obliquity was confined within so narrow limits that it has scarcely ever been appealed to as a cause seriously affecting climate. The only remaining cause to which appeal could be made was the change in the eccentricity of the earth's orbit-precession of the equinoxes without eccentricity producing, of course, no effect whatever on climate. Upwards of forty years ago Sir John Herschel and a few other astronomers directed their attention to the consideration of this cause, but the re11ult arrived at was adverse to the supposition that change of eccentricity could greatly affect the climate of our globe.
As some misapprehension seems to prevail with reference to this, I would take the liberty of briefly adverting to the history of the matter, — referring the reader to the Appendix for fuller details.
About the beginning of the century some writers attributed the lower temperature of the southern hemisphere to the fact that the sun remains about seven days less on that hemisphere than on the northern ; their view being that the southern hemisphere on this account receives seven days less heat than the northern. Sir Charles Lyell, in the first edition of his "Principles," published in 1830, refers to this as a cause which might produce some alight effect on climate. Sir Charles's remarks seem to have directed Sir John Herschel's attention to the subject, for in the latter part of the same year he read a paper before the Geological Society on the astronomical causes which may influence geological phenomena, in which, after pointing out the mistake into which Sir Charles had been led in concluding that the southern hemisphere receives less heat than the northern, he considers the question ae to whether geological climate could be influenced by changes in the eccentricity of the earth's orbit. He did not appear at the time to have been aware of the conclusions arrived at by Lagrange regarding the superior limit of the eccentricity of the earth's orbit; but he came to the conclusion that possibly the climate of our globe may have been affected by variations in the eccentricity of its orbit. "An amount of variation," he says, "which we need not hesitate to admit (at least provisionally) as a possible one, may be productive of considerable diversity of climate, and may operate during great periods of time either to mitigate or to exaggerate the difference of winter and summer temperatures, so as to produce alternately in the same latitude of either hemisphere a perpetual spring, or the extreme vicissitudes of a burning summer and a rigorous winter."
This opinion, however, was unfortunately to a great extent nullified by the statement which shortly afterwards appeared in his "Treatise on Astronomy," and also in the "Outlines of Astronomy," to the effect that the elliptic form of the earth's orbit has but a very trifling influence in producing variation of temperature corresponding to the sun's distance; the reason being that whatever may be the ellipticity of the orbit, it follows that equal amounts of heat are received from the sun in passing over equal angles round it, in whatever part of the ellipse those angles may be situated. Those angles will of course be described in unequal times, but the greater proximity of the sun exactly compensates for the more rapid description, and thus an equilibrium of heat is maintained. The sun, for example, is much nearer the earth when he is over the southern hemisphere than he is when over the northern; but the southern hemisphere does not on this account receive more heat than the northern; for, owing to the greater velocity of the earth when nearest the sun, the sun does not remain so long on the southern hemisphere as he does on the northern. These two effects so exactly counterbalance each other that, whatever be the extent of the eccentricity, the total amount of heat reaching both hemispheres is the same. And he considered that this beautiful compensating principle would protect the climate of our globe from being seriously affected by an increase in the eccentricity of its orbit, unless the extent of that increase was very great.
"Were it not," he says, "for this, the eccentricity of the orbit would materially influence the transition of seasons. The fluctuation· of distance amounts to nearly l-30th of its mean quantity, and consequently the fluctuation in the sun's direct heating power to double this, or l-15th of the whole. Now the perihelion of the orbit is situated nearly at the place of the northern winter solstice; so that, wore it not for the compensation we have just described, the effect would be to exaggerate the difference of summer and winter in the southern hemisphere, and to moderate it in the northern; thus producing a more violent alternation of climate in the one hemisphere, and an approach to perpetual spring in the other. As it is, however, no such inequality subsists, but an equal and impartial distribution of heat and light is accorded to both."
Herschel's opinion was shortly afterwards adopted and advocated by Arago and by Humboldt.
Arago, for example, states that so little is the climate of our globe affected by the eccentricity of its orbit, that even were the orbit to become as eccentric as that of the planet Pallas (that is, as great as 0.24), "still this would not alter in any appreciable manner the mean thermometrical state of the globe."
This idea, supported by these great authorities, got possession of the public mind; and ever since it has been almost universally regarded as settled that the great changes of climate indicated by geological phenomena could not have resulted from any change in the relation of the earth to the sun.
There is, however, one effect that was not regarded aa compensated. The total amount of heat received by the earth is inversely proportional to the minor axis of its orbit; and it follows, therefore, that the greater the eccentricity, the greater is the total amount of heat received by the earth. On this account it was concluded that an increase of eccentricity would tend to a certain extent to produce a warmer climate.
All those conclusions to which I refer, arrived at by astronomers, are perfectly legitimate so far as the direct effects of eccentricity are concerned; and it was quite natural, and, in fact, proper to conclude that there was nothing in the mere increase of eccentricity that could produce a glacial epoch. How unnatural would it have been to have concluded that an increase in the quantity of heat received from the sun should lower the temperature, and cover the country with snow and ice! Neither would excessively cold winters, followed by excessively hot summers, produce a glacial epoch. To assert, therefore, that the purely astronomical causes could produce such an effect would be simply absurd.
Important consideration overlooked. — The important fact, however, was overlooked that, although the glacial epoch could not result directly from an increase of eccentricity, it might nevertheless do so indirectly. Although an increase of eccentricity could have no direct tendency to lower the temperature and cover our country with ice, yet it might bring into operation physical agents which would produce this effect.
If, instead of endeavouring to trace a direct connection between a high condition of eccentricity and a glacial condition of climate, we turn our attention to the consideration of what are the physical effects which result from an increase of eccentricity, wo shall find that a host of physical agencies are brought into operation, the combined effect of which is to lower to a very great extent the temperature of the hemisphere whose winters occur in aphelion, and to raise to nearly as great an extent the temperature of the opposite hemisphere, whose winters of course occur in perihelion. Until attention was directed to those physical circumstances to which I refer, it was impossible that the true cause of the glacial epoch could have been discovered; and, moreover, many of the indirect and physical effects, which in reality were those that brought about the glacial epoch, could not, in the nature of things, have been known previously to recent discoveries in the science of heat.
The consideration and discussion of those various physical agencies are the chief aim of the following pages.
Abstract of the Line of Argument pursued in this Volume. — I shall now proceed to give a brief abstract of the line of argument pursued in this volume. But as a considerable portion of it is devoted to the consideration of objections and difficulties bearing either directly or indirectly on the theory, it will be necessary to point out what those difficulties are, how they arose, and the methods which have been adopted to overcome them.
Chapter IV. contains an outline of the physical agencies affecting climate which are brought into operation by an increase of eccentricity. By far the most important of all those agencies, and one which mainly brought about the glacial epoch, is the Detection of Ocean Currents. The consideration of the indirect physical connection between a high state of eccentricity and the detection of ocean currents, and also the enormous influence on the climate which results from this detection constitutes not only the most important part of the subject, but the one xxx with the greatest amount of difficulties.
The difficulties between this part of the theory arise mainly from the imperfect state of our knowledge. Xxx with reference to the absolute amount of heat transferred from equatorial to temperate and polar regions by means of ocean currents and the influence which the heat thus transferred has on the distribution of temperature on the earth's surface; and (2nd) in connection with the physical cause of ocean circulation.
In Chapters II. and III. I have entered at considerable length into the consideration of the effects of ocean currents on the distribution of heat over the globe. The only current of which anything like an accurate estimate of volume and temperature has been made is the Gulf-stream. In reference to this stream we have a means of determining in absolute measure the quantity of heat conveyed by it. On the necessary computation being made, it is found that the amount transferred by the Gulf-stream from equatorial regions into the North Atlantic is enormously greater than was ever anticipated, amounting to no less than one-fifth part of the entire heat possessed by the North Atlantic. This striking fact casts a new light on the question of the distribution of heat over the globe. It will be seen that to such an extent is the temperature of the equatorial regions lowered, and that of high temperate, and polar regions raised, by means of ocean currents, that were they to cease, and each latitude to depend solely on the heat received directly from the sun, only a very small portion of the globe would be habitable by the present order of beings. This being the case, it becomes obvious to what an extent the deflection of ocean currents must affect temperature. For example, were the Gulf-stream stopped, and the heat conveyed by it deflected into the Southern Ocean, how enormously would this tend to lower the temperature of the northern hemisphere, and raise the temperature south of the equator.
Chapters VI., VII., VIII., IX., X., and XIII., are devoted to the consideration of the physical cause of oceanic circulation. This has been found to be the most difficult and perplexing part of the whole inquiry. The difficulties mainly arise from the great diversity of opinion and confusion of ideas prevailing in regard to the mechanics of the subject. There are two theories propounded to account for oceanic circulation; the one which may be called the Wind theory, and the other the Gravitation theory; and this diversity of opinion and confusion of ideas prevail in connection with both theories. As the question of the cause of oceanic circulation has not only a direct and important bearing on the subject of the present volume, but is further one of much general interest, I have entered somewhat fully into the matter.
The Gravitation theories may be divided into two classes. The first of these attributes the Gulf-stream and other sensible currents of the ocean to difference of specific gravity, resulting from difference of temperature between the sea in equatorial and polar region. The leading advocate of this theory was the late Lieutenant Maury, who brought it so much into prominence in his interesting book on the "Physical Geography of the Sea." The other class does not admit that the sensible currents of the ocean can be produced by difference of specific gravity; but they maintain that difference of temperature between the sea in equatorial and polar regions produces a general movement of the upper portion of the sea from the equator to the poles, and a counter-movement of the under portion from the poles to the equator. This form of the gravitation theory has been ably and zealously advocated by Dr. Carpenter, who may be regarded as its representative. The Wind theories also divide into two classes. According to the one ocean currents are caused and maintained by the impulse of the trade-winds, while according to the other they are due not to the impulse of the trade-winds alone, but to that of the prevailing winds of the globe, regarded as a general system. The former of these is the one generally accepted; the latter is that advocated in the present volume.
The relations which these theories bear to the question of secular change of climate, will be found stated at length in Chapter VI. It will, however, be better to state here in a few words what those relations are. When the eccentricity of the earth's orbit attains a high value, the hemisphere, whose winter solstice occurs in aphelion has, for reasons which are explained in Chapter IV., its temperature lowered, while that of the opposite hemisphere is raised. Let us suppose the northern hemisphere to be the cold one, and the southern the warm one. The difference of temperature between the equator and the North Pole will then be greater than between the equator and the South Pole; according, therefore, to theory, the trades of the northern hemisphere will be stronger than those of the southern, and will consequently blow across the equator to some distance on the southern hemisphere. This state of things will tend to deflect equatorial currents southwards, impelling the warm water of the equatorial regions more into the southern or warm hemisphere than into the northern or cold hemisphere. The tendency of all this will be to exaggerate the difference of temperature already existing between the two hemispheres. If, on the other hand, the great ocean currents which convey the warm equatorial waters to temperate and polar regions be not produced by the impulse of the winds, but by difference of temperature, as Maury maintains, then in the case above supposed the equatorial waters would be deflected more into the northern or cold hemisphere than into the southern or warm hemisphere, because the difference of temperature between the equator and the poles would be greater on the cold than on the warm hemisphere. This, of course, would tend to neutralize or counteract that difference of temperature between the two hemispheres which had been previously produced by eccentricity. In short, this theory of circulation would effectually prevent eccentricity from seriously affecting climate.
Chapters VI. and VII. have been devoted to an examination of this form of the gravitation theory.
The above remarks apply equally to Dr. Carpenter's form of the theory; for according to a doctrine of General Oceanic Circulation resulting from difference of specific gravity between the water at the equator and at the poles the equatorial water will be carried mo1e to the cold than to the warm hemisphere. It is perfectly true that a belief in a general oceanic circulation may be held quite consistently with the theory of secular changes of climate, provided it be admitted that not this general circulation but ocean currents are the great agency employed in distributing heat over the globe. The advocates of the theory, however, admit no such thing, but regard ocean currents as of secondary importance. It may be stated that the existence of this general ocean circulation has never been detected by actual observation. It is simply assumed in order to account for certain facts, and it is asserted that such a circulation must take place as a physical necessity. I freely admit that were it not that the warm water of equatorial regions is being constantly carried off by means of ocean currents such as the Gulfstream, it would accumulate till, in order to restoration of equilibrium, such a general movement as is supposed would be generated. But it will be shown that the warm water in equatorial regions is being drained off so rapidly by ocean currents that the actual density of an equatorial column differs so little from that of a polar column that the force of gravity resulting from that difference is so infinitesimal that it is doubtful whether it is sufficient to produce sensible motion. I have also shown in Chapter VII. that all the facts which this theory is designed to explain are not only explained by the wind theory, but are deducible from it as necessary consequences. In Chapter XI. it is proved, by contrasting the quantity of heat conveyed by ocean currents from inter-tropical to temperate and polar regions with such an amount as could possibly be conveyed by means of a general oceanic circulation, that the latter sinks into insignificance before the former. In Chapters X. and XII. the various objections which have been advanced by Dr. Carpenter and Mr. Findlay are discussed at considerable length, and in Chapter IX. I have entered somewhat minutely into an examination of the mechanics of the gravitation theory. A statement of the wind theory is given in Chapter XIII.; and in Chapter XIV. is shown the relation of this theory to the theory of Secular changes of climate. This terminates the part of the inquiry relating to oceanic circulation.
We now come to the crucial test of the theories respecting the cause of the glacial epoch, viz., Warm Inter-glacial Periods. In Chapters XV. and XVI I have given a statement of the geological facts which go to prove that that long epoch known as the Glacial was not one of continuous cold, but consisted of a succession of cold and warm periods. This condition of things is utterly inexplicable on every theory of the cause of the glacial epoch which baa hitherto been advanced; but, according to the physical theory of secular changes of climate under consideration, it follows as a necessary consequence. In fact, the amount of geological evidence which has already been accumulated in reference to inter-glacial periods may now be regarded as perfectly sufficient to establish the truth of that theory.
If the glacial epoch resulted from some accidental distribution of sea and land, then there may or may not have been more than one glacial epoch, but if it resulted from the cause which we have assigned, then there must have been during the geological history of the globe a succession of glacial epochs corresponding to the secular variations in the eccentricity of the earth's orbit. A belief in the existence of recurring glacial epochs baa been steadily gaining ground for many years past. I have, in Chapter XVIII., given at some length the facts on which this belief rests. It is true that the geological evidence of glacial epochs in prior ages is meagre in comparison with that of the glacial epoch of Post-tertiary times; but there is a reason for this in the nature of geological evidence itself. Chapter XVII. deals with the geological records of former glacial epochs, showing that they are not only imperfect, but that there is good reason why they should be so, and that the imperfection of the records in reference to them cannot be advanced as an argument against their existence.
If the glacial epoch resulted from a high condition of eccentricity, we have not only a means of determining the positive elate of that epoch, but we have also a means of determining geological time in absolute measure. For if the glacial epoch of prior ages correspond to periods of high eccentricity, then the intervals between those periods of high eccentricity become the measure of the intervals between the glacial epochs. The researches of Lagrange and Leverrier into the secular variations of the elements of the orbits of the planets enable us to determine with tolerable accuracy the values of the eccentricity of the earth's orbit for, at least, four millions of years past and future. With the view of determining those values, I several years ago computed from Leverrier's formula the eccentricity of the earth's orbit and longitude of the perihelion, at intervals of ten thousand and fifty thousand years during a period of three millions of years in the past, and one million of years in the future. The tables containing these values will be found in Chapter XIX. These tables not only give us the date of the glacial epoch, but they afford, as will be seen from Chapter XXI., evidence as to the probable date of the Eocene and Miocene periods.
Ten years ago, when the theory was first advanced, it was beset by a very formidable difficulty, arising from the opinions which then prevailed in reference to geological time. One or two glacial epochs in the course of a million of years was a conclusion which at that time scarcely any geologist would admit, and most would have felt inclined to have placed the last glacial epoch at least one million of years back. But then if we assume that the glacial epoch was due to a high state of eccentricity, we should be compelled to admit of at least two glacial epochs during that lapse of time. It was the modern doctrine that the great changes undergone by the earth's crust were produced, not by convulsions of nature, but by the slow and almost imperceptible action of rain, rivers, snow, frost, ice, &c., which impressed so strongly on the mind of the geologist the vast duration of geological periods. When it was considered that the rocky face of our globe had been carved into hills and dales, and ultimately worn down to the sea-level by means of those apparently trifling agents, not only once or twice, but many times, during past ages, it was not surprising that the views entertained by geologists regarding the immense antiquity of our globe should not have harmonised with the deductions of physical science on the subject. It had been shown by Sir William Thomson and others, from physical considerations relating to the age of the sun's heat and the secular cooling of our globe, that the geological history of our earth's crust must be limited to a period of something like one hundred millions of yeas. But these speculations had but little weight when pitted against the stem and undeniable facts of sub-aerial denudation. How, then, were the two to be reconciled? Was it the physicist who had under-estimated geological time, or the geologist who had over-estimated it? Few familiar with modem physics, and who have given special attention to the subject, would admit that the sun could have been dissipating his heat at the present enormous rate for a period much beyond one hundred millions of years. The probability was that the amount of work performed on the earth's crust by the denuding agents in a period so immense as a million of yean was, for reasons stated in Chapter XX., very much under-estimated. But the difficulty was how to prove this. How was it possible to measure the rate of operation of agents so numerous and diversified acting with such extreme slowness and irregularity over so immense areas? In other words, how was it possible to measure the rate of sub-aerial denudation? Pondering over this problem about ten years ago, an extremely simple and obvious method of solving it suggested itself to my mind. This method – the details of which will be found in Chapter XX. – showed that the rate of subaerial denudation is enormously greater than had been supposed. The method is now pretty generally accepted, and the result has already been to bring about a complete reconciliation between physics and geology in reference to time.
Chapter XXI. contains an account of the gravitation theories of the origin of the sun's heat. The energy possessed by the sun is generally supposed to have been derived from gravitation, combustion being totally inadequate as a source. But something more than gravitation is required. Before we can account for even one hundred millions of years' heat. Gravitation could not supply even one-half that amount. There must be some other and greater source than that of gravitation. There is, however, as is indicated, an obvious source from which far more energy may have been derived than could have been obtained from gravitation.
The method of determining the rate of sub-aerial denudation enables us also to arrive at a rough estimate of the actual mean thickness of the stratified rocks of the globe. It will be seen. from Chapter XXII. that the mean thickness is far less than is generally supposed.
The physical cause of the submergence of the land during the glacial epoch, and the influence of change in the obliquity of the ecliptic on climate, are next considered. In Chapter XXVI. I have given the reasons which induce me to believe that coal is an inter-glacial formation.
The next two chapters – the one on the path of the ice in north-western Europe, the other on the north of England ice-sheet – are reprints of papers which appeared a few years ago in the Geological Magazine. Recent observations have confirmed the truth of the views advanced in these two chapters, and they are rapidly gaining acceptance among geologists.
I have given, at the conclusion, a statement of the molecular theory of glacier motion – a theory which I have been led to modify considerably on one particular point.
There is one point to which I wish particularly to direct attention – viz., that I have studiously avoided introducing into the theories propounded anything of a hypothetical nature. There is not, so far as I am aware, from beginning to end of this volume, a single hypothetical element: nowhere have I attempted to give a hypothetical explanation. The conclusions are in every case derived either from facts or from what I believe to be admitted principles. In short, I have aimed to prove that the theory of secular changes of climate follows, as a necessary consequence, from the admitted principles of physical science.
Herr James Croll schließt sich der Auffassung an, dass die Exzentrizität der elliptischen Erdbahn nicht ausreicht, die großen Temperaturunterschiede zwischen Eis- und Warmzeiten zu erklären. Er versucht, den Wärmefluß zwischen den tropischen und den arktischen Regionen durch Meeresströmungen und globale Windsysteme zu erklären, deren Veränderungen zu Temperaturänderungen der Atmosphäre führen. Arrhenius diskutiert 1896 die Mängel dieser Theorie ausführlich. Erst Milanković findet heraus, wie die Erdachse so weit kippen kann, dass erhöhte die Einstrahlung der Sonnenenergie zum Abschmelzen der Polkappen führt.
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