W. L. (William Larkin) Webb.

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Achaia, in 373 B.C., which occurred during the lifetime of Aris-
totle and Plato. And it was possible to prove from historical
authorities that the subsidence amounted to about one hundred
feet, which shows that after that earthquake had pushed lava
under the mountains in Arcadia, the bed of the Gulf of Corinth
gave down, and carried the shore on which Helike stood down with
it, so that, as Pausanias says, only the tops of the trees about the
temple of Poseidon remained above the water. This famous
disaster, which happened when Plato was fifty-four and thus at
the head of the Academy in Athens, and Aristotle was a boy eleven
years old, was therefore due to the expulsion of lava from under
the Gulf of Corinth. Is it not remarkable that after the lapse of
so many centuries we should be able to explain by simple principles
a calamity which so disturbed the Greek world, and completely
bewildered even the wisest of the Athenian sages?

22. As the result of his researches Aristotle held that earth-
quakes are due to vapors in the earth, seeking to escape and diffuse
themselves in the atmosphere. This view was generally adopted
by the ancients, for we find it clearly stated by Strabo and Pliny,
who studied the writings of Aristotle. Strabo also holds the theory
that the land is uplifted and depressed by earthquakes. He seems
to have held that not only islands and continents but also moun-
tains are thus produced, which essentially accords with the theory
of Aristotle, who had carefully studied volcanic and earthquake
phenomena, including several eruptions observed to occur in the
sea. Aristotle had observed that maritime districts are especially
subject to earthquakes. In view of the results of modern observa-
tions and the theory now established, may we not justly consider
this to be one of the most remarkable inductions of antiquity?

23. The theory now developed was therefore vaguely out-
lined by the leading Greek philosophers, especially by Aristotle,


who associated the causes producing earthquakes and volcanoes,
islands and seismic sea waves, all of which were attributed to the
accumulation of vapors in the earth. This natural order of
thought as developed by the Greeks presents a striking contrast
to the disconnected and anachronous views on these subjects still
current in our own time, and admonishes us to give ample heed to
the independent conceptions of the Greeks who were not so much
swayed as some moderns are by contemporary opinion.

24. The theory recently current that great seismic disturb-
ances of the earth's crust are due to unequal loading of different
areas arising in erosion, denudation and deposits of sediment is,
to say the least, unworthy of modern science, because such forces
could produce no uplifts whatever, nor could they produce any
serious continuous shaking, even if a slight movement of the
ground should occur. It is the movement of molten rock under
the earth's crust, in the process of adjustment of steam pressure,
which forms mountains, shakes down cities and lays waste whole
countries. The development of the highest mountain ranges
about the deepest oceans shows that these great uplifts of the
crust depend upon the sea and not at all on the shrinkage of the
globe. The indications of nature indeed are as clear as the noon-
day sun, and all we have to do is to apply to these phenomena a
little of the saving common sense which has distinguished man-
kind in the better ages of the human mind.

This summary of the results of these researches is necessarily
incomplete, but probably sufficiently extended to afford an idea
of the trend of the investigation. Among American geologists
Dana approached most nearly to the true views of the physics of
the earth's crust, and we shall therefore quote his statements as
they were made over forty years ago. Some of his intuitions are
quite remarkable.


In the first edition of his Manual of Geology, 1863, J. D. Dana
treats of the general features of the earth and shows how the con-


tinents are walled in by mountains, erected about their borders,
and finally adds (p. 29) :

(a) "The continents thus exemplify the law laid down, and
not merely as to high borders around a depressed interior, a princi-
ple stated by many geographers, but also as to the highest bor-
der being on the side of the greatest ocean (first announced in
American Jour. Sci. (2) xvii, vols. iii, iv, 1847, and xxii, 335, 1856).
The continents then are all built on one model, and in their struc-
ture and origin have a relation to the oceans that is of fundamental
importance." He also observes that the borders of continents
are from five hundred to one thousand miles wide, and infers that
"a continent cannot be less than a thousand miles, (twice five
hundred), in width," otherwise it would not have the character-
istic basin form with mountain barriers about a low interior.

(b) On page 731 he discusses the evolution of the earth's
great outline reliefs, and of the successive phases in its progress,
summarizing his conclusions as follows:

I. "The continents have mountains along their borders,
while the interior is relatively low; and these border mountain
chains often consist of two or three ranges elevated at different

II. "The highest mountain-border faces the largest ocean,
and conversely."

III. "The continents have their volcanoes mainly on their
borders, the interior being almost wholly without them, although
they were largely covered with salt water from the Azoic age to
the Tertiary. Also metamorphic rocks later than the Azoic are
most prevalent near the borders."

IV. "Nearly all of the volcanoes of a continent are on the
border which faces the largest ocean."

V. "The strata of the continental borders are for the most
part plicated on a grand scale, while those of the interior are rela-
tively but little disturbed."

VI. "The successive changes of level on coasts, even
from the Azoic age to the Tertiary, have been in general


parallel to the border mountain chains; as those of the eastern
United States, parallel to the Appalachians, and those of the
Pacific side, as far as now appears, parallel to the Rocky
Mountains/ '

VIII. "The continents and oceans had their general outline
or form defined in earliest time. This has been proved with re-
gard to North America from the position and distribution of the
first beds of the Lower Silurian, those of the Potsdam epoch.
The facts indicate that the continent of North America had its
surface near tide-level, part above and part below it (p. 196), and
this will probably be proved to be the conditions in primordial
time of the other continents also. And, if the outlines of the
continents were marked out, it follows that the outlines of the
oceans were no less so."

The three other conclusions announced by Dana are of less
interest, and need not be quoted here.

(c) The following deductions (p. 732) regarding the positions
of the reliefs are of high interest:

"1. The situation of the great mountain chains, mainly near
the borders of the continents, does not indicate whether the eleva-
ting pressure acted within the continental or oceanic part of the
earth's crust. But the occurrence between the principal range
and the sea coast of the larger part of the volcanoes (and, therefore,
of the profound and widely-opened fractures) of these borders, of
the most extensive metamorphic areas, and of the closest and most
numerous plications of the strata, as so well sfyown in North
America, are sufficient evidence that the force acted most strongly
from the oceanic direction."

"2. The relation between the extent of the oceans and the
height and volcanic action, etc., of their borders proves that the
amount of force in action has some relation to the size and depth
of the oceanic basin. The Pacific exhibits its greatness in the
lofty mountains and volcanoes which begirt it."

"3. In such a movement, elevation in one part supposes
necessarily subsidence in another; and, while the continental was


the part of the crust which was elevated, the oceanic was the sub-
siding part."

In connection with the theory that the mountains are formed
by the expulsion of lava from under the sea, though the operation
of world-shaking earthquakes, these early views of Dana are of
great interest. But in other respects he was led astray by the
doctine of the secular refrigeration of the globe; for he says that
"no other cause presents itself that can comprehend in its action
the whole globe and all time." He thus speaks as if the entire
globe were shrinking, whereas local changes only are occurring,
and these always near the sea. Dana's views that "the pressure
of the subsiding oceanic portion has acted against the resisting
mass of the continents; and thus the border between them has
become elevated, plicated, metamorphosed and embossed with
volcanoes," is alike misleading and unjustifiable. To produce
such an effect the settling of the ocean basin would have to be
many miles, and we have shown that no such shrinkage has taken
place since the crust was formed; on the contrary there is reason
to think that the earth is expanding at a rate of from ten to one
hundred times that of the contraction due to secular cooling.
Moreover we have no more right to assume that the continent is
squeezed by the settlement of the ocean, than that the ocean is
squeezed by the settling of the continent.

(d) We have, however, recalled these views in order to do
justice to the most original of the older American geologists, and
also to let the student see where he departs from the true line of
thought. Many years ago Rev. O. Fisher showed that shrinkage
was wholly inadequate to account for the height of the mountains
observed upon the earth, which are hundreds of times higher than
the contraction theory will explain. In the paper on the cause
of earthquakes it is shown that the contraction theory is also em-
phatically contradicted by the present distribution of mountains.
And in the second paper, "On the Temperature, Secular Cooling
and Contraction of the Earth, and on the Theory of Earthquakes
held by the Ancients," it is shown that at present the earth is not


contracting at all; so we are compelled to abandon the older
theories entirely.

As heretofore developed, geology has presented the strange
anomaly of offering no theories adequate to account for the uplift
of mountains or the deposits of fossil beds thousands of feet above
the sea. This is the more remarkable, since in the days of Hum-
boldt, Lyell, and Darwin, the bodily elevation of the land was an
accepted item of belief. But subsequently Lord Kelvin, Sir
George Darwin and other eminent British physicists, showed from
the investigation of tidal and other phenomena that the earth as
a whole behaved as a solid, and under the influence of this line of
thought geologists gave up the doctrine of the bodily elevation of
the land, and restricted themselves to the collapse of portions of
the crust under gravity. Such a line of thought, however, utterly
fails to explain mountains and plateaus and islands, as well as
shells and other organic remains at great height above the sea
level. But it was felt that the argument of the physicists against
the bodily yielding of the earth was unanswerable, and so it was,
yet this does not exclude the existence of a layer just beneath the
crust which in earthquakes behaves as fluid.

In my researches a theory is developed by which these two
views may be reconciled, and it is, I think, clearly proved that in
earthquakes there is movement of molten rock beneath the crust.
It is this movement of molten rock beneath the earth's crust which
produces most of the dislocations, crumpling, folding, and other
phenomena studied in geology. If such a view is justifiable, it
shows us how cautious we must be in drawing final conclusions,
and how incomplete all the sciences still are today.

We must now refer to Daubree's experiments, and the prob-
lem of explaining how the water gets beneath the earth's crust,
to develop the steam power operative in earthquakes. Daubree's
experiments have shown that under pressure of its own superin-
cumbent column, water may pass through cold and enter hot rocks,
by capillary action, and increase the pressure within, notwith-
standing the increase of steam pressure on the under side. In


this way Daubree explained volcanic eruptions, by which a column
of molten lava is forced up into the vent of a volcano. Though
Daubree's results appear to have a good experimental basis, we
may prove our fundamental proposition regarding the leakage of
the oceans quite independently of these experiments.

Earthquakes are the processes by which mountains are pro-
duced, and observation shows that these forces act at a depth of
some fifteen miles, where the pressure is so great that no vacancies
exist. When the coast is upheaved by an earthquake it is clear
that no real cavity is allowed to form beneath; in the same way
we may conclude that when the sea bottom sinks after an earth-
quake no condensation of the matter of average density takes
place beneath the bed of the sea. But matter is expelled
from beneath the sea bottom and pushed under the land, so
that the coast is upraised and the sea bottom sinks, to fill up
the partial cavity formed beneath the sea by the expulsion
of lava.

These phenomena are repeatedly observed in South America,
the Aleutian Islands and elsewhere, and, so far as one can see,
admit of but one interpretation. Hence we may conclude with
certainty that the Andes have been formed by the expulsion of
lava from beneath the bed of the adjacent ocean; this is the true
meaning of the thundering of the earthquakes under the margin
of the sea already witnessed for centuries, but not heretofore un-
derstood by men of science. This subterranean thunder is the
outward expression of the mighty explosive forces by which the
crust along the coast is uplifted into some of the mightiest moun-
tains of the globe.

Since the earth is not contracting, nor experiencing any
sensible changes due to secular cooling, it is evident that this ex-
pulsion of lava can only be accomplished by explosive vapor such
as is seen to issue from neighboring volcanoes, which often break
out into eruption simultaneously with an earthquake noticed to
produce an elevation of the coast and a sinking of the sea bottom.
This vapor therefore is nothing else than common steam.


Now the steam developing beneath the earth's crust and pro-
ducing earthquakes and volcanic activity can be traced to but
two possible sources: First, the original magma of the globe,
which, in default of a better explanation, has been frequently
invoked by the geologist; Second, the secular leakage of the
ocean bottoms, effected through fifteen miles of solid rock like
granite, which naturally appeals to the physicist. If the escaping
steam, or any sensible part of it, came from the central magma
of the globe, volcanoes and earthquakes necessarily would occur
in the interior of the continents as well as along the coasts, on
islands, and in the depths of the sea. For the continents are
large areas, and altogether cover more than one-fourth of the total
surface of the globe; yet the volcanoes and world-shaking earth-
quakes are confined to the neighborhood of the oceans or other
large bodies of water.

It clearly follows therefore that the agitating vapor does not
come from the central magma of the globe, but must come from
the secular leakage of the ocean bottoms. This is unmistakably
indicated by the most overwhelming evidence of nature, and hence
it follows that the secular leakage of the ocean bottoms through
fifteen miles of rock like granite is effected by the constant pressure
of the water upon the bed of the sea. When we recall that the
column of water resting on the sea bottom is often five miles deep,
giving a steady pressure theoretically adequate for throwing a jet
to that height, it is not at all surprising that the water should work
down through fifteen miles of rock like granite.

Accordingly it follows also that Daubree's experiments are
applicable to layers of rock from fifteen to twenty miles thick, and
our fundamental proposition regarding the secular leakage of the
ocean bottoms is proved quite independently of Daubree's experi-
ments. In the case of our thinly encrusted planet so largely
covered with water, the natural arrangement between the over-
lying oceans and the underlying molten globe constitutes a
laboratory of the most imposing magnitude, infinitely transcend-
ing anything ever conceived by man, with gigantic experiments


constantly going on. All that is needed therefore is for the philos-
opher to interpret Nature's stupendous operations, which unfortu-
nately only too often prove disastrous to human life, owing to
our ignorance and disregard of natural laws. The highest duty
of the philosopher is to discover these laws and make them
available to the public, so as to contribute as much as possible
to the safety and repose of mankind.

It is often imagined by many that the captains of industry
are the principal creators of national wealth and prosperity, and
that discoveries of natural laws are of little value compared to
material things. Is it necessary to point out the inadequacy of
this view? Is not he who discovers how to safeguard and preserve
the property of the State as essential to the public well-being as
he who merely develops, without knowing how to build so as to
preserve, the products of human labor? Would it be extreme to
hold that a real discoverer, a true philosopher, is as valuable to
the State as any captain of industry? His worldly possessions, it
is true, may be small, but his discoveries are useful to all mankind
of the present and future generations; yea, they are the one im-
perishable product of the age, a priceless heritage of civilization,
and given freely to all the nations of the earth.

In view of what has been proved in the researches here
sketched, there will in the future be no excuse for our cities on the
coasts of deep seas being consumed by conflagrations after earth-
quakes; for it is shown that all places on the coasts of deep seas
are liable to earthquake disturbances, and the people should
be prepared for such emergencies by extra and independent
systems of water works. If San Francisco had possessed such
knowledge before the late disaster, and had had the courage
to live up to it, she would not have been laid waste by the
fire, nor would the earthquake damages have proved very
serious. But human frailty is such that we can learn only by
experience. Let us hope that the lesson will not soon be for-
gotten, and that other cities on the coast will be prepared for
possible emergencies.


In the same way there is little excuse for damage by seismic
sea waves. If ships put promptly to sea on the first sign of the
withdrawal of the water from the shore, they will usually be safe,
and can ride securely over the waves due to the sinking of the
sea bottom; whereas if they remain in the harbor they are almost
sure to be stranded and perhaps destroyed, with enormous losses
of life and property.

The researches of Science therefore have an eminently prac-
tical and humane value, in addition to their purely philosophic
interest. The preservation and promotion of Science has there-
fore become one of the highest duties of the State; for the discovery
of natural laws is really necessary to the protection of the people
and the preservation of civilization.




By T. J. J. SEE.

in 1906 the daily press published accounts of the
sudden appearance in Alaskan waters of Metcalf Island,
and the illustrated weeklies have since given photographs
showing its eruption above the sea as a volcano. More recently,
another island has been raised in the Aleutian chain; and every
month or so we read in press dispatches of eruptions occurring
somewhere in the sea, and of islands being lifted above the water.

The experienced navigator has often heard of or seen these
submarine outbreaks, and regards the uplift of islands as a common
occurrence long familiar to the explorer of the oceans. It never
occurs to him that these volcanic outbreaks are especially extraor-
dinary. On the other hand, the learned scientist in the secluded
life of the University, constantly occupied with books, is largely
withdrawn not only from the world, but also from contact with
actual nature, and overlooks or underestimates the significance of
what is so often reported by the ocean voyager. The more active
scientist explores the mountains on the land, but gives very little
thought to those in the depths of the sea.

Thus the observations of the navigator have not been ade-
quately considered by the explorer of the continent, and conse-
quently the theories formed from the study of the land do not
accord with the facts observed in the ocean. But as our knowl-
edge of the ocean has increased, it has been remarked with sur-
prise that the sea bottom is here and there upraised and folded
into mountains, which sometimes project above the water as

* Reprinted from the Pacific Monthly for September, 1908, by permission
of Sunset the Pacific Monthly.


islands, and again are entirely hidden from our view by the great
depths of the sea. The naturalist who has been occupied with
the investigation of mountains on the land finds himself greatly
perplexed to account for those in the oceans.

For a long time it was supposed that only isolated cones arose
from the deep, and now and then appeared above the water as
volcanic islands. This was in fact observed in the classic period
by the Greek and Romans. Aristotle, Strabo and Pliny distinctly
mention eruptions in the sea, and give accounts of how certain
islands were raised above the water within historical times. In
striking contrast to this natural attitude of the ancient writers,
we find in the modern geologies no general theory of island
formation. Considering the enormous advance in science
during the past two thousand years, this appears to be a strange
and almost unaccountable neglect on the part of the modern

When, however, the exact measurement of the ocean depths
made within recent years showed not only peaks and cones scatter-
ed widely over the sea bottom, but also great ranges of mountains
in the depths of the sea, the old view that islands arose only from
isolated cones obviously could no longer be held. Geologists have
long accepted the theory that the mountains were formed by the
shrinkage of the earth, due to the progress of secular cooling, and
they have explained the mountains on the land by the subsidence
of the ocean basins, which, it was held, pushed up the edges of the
continents. Yet if mountains exist also in the depths of the sea,
this theory of oceanic subsidence would not well account for these
submarine folds. Thus the discovery of mountain chains in the
ocean excited the surprise without satisfying the curiosity of the

By what process, then, are mountains formed in the sea, and
are they formed on the land by the same cause? This is a question
which we shall endeavor to answer in the course of this paper, and
the result is so general as to be of interest to every reader of
scientific literature.


Just south of the Aleutian Islands there is a deep trench in
the sea, which has a depth of from 3,000 to over 4,000 fathoms
from 18,000 to over 24,000 feet. This depression is long and nar-
row, just like a trough, as if dug out by supreme intelligence; and
right next to it on the north, the Aleutain Islands run parallel to
this depression all along. The Aleutian Islands are in fact a
mighty mountain range under water, with only a few peaks here
and there projecting above the sea as islands. This great ridge
is not only parallel to the deep trench just south of it, but also
of almost exactly the same volume; so that if one had a shovel

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Online LibraryW. L. (William Larkin) WebbBrief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. → online text (page 11 of 28)