Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
The Formation of Mountains
S295 (1878), S298 (1879), S300 (1879)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Letters to the Editor of Nature printed in the 12 December 1878, 16 January 1879, and 30 January 1879 issues, respectively. Each carried the title "The Formation of Mountains." Original paginations indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S295AND.htm


S295 (1878)

     [[p. 121]] In the account of M. Favre's experiments in Nature, vol. xix. p. 103, I find the following passage:--"It is, in fact, very probable that our globe is at the stage when, according to Élie de Beaumont, 'the mean annual cooling of the mass exceeds that of the surface, and exceeds it more and more.' It must follow that the external strata of the globe, tending always to rest on the internal parts, are wrinkled, folded, dislocated, depressed at certain points, and elevated at others."

     The whole theory of these dislocations, &c., thus depends on the assumption that the interior of the globe is cooling more rapidly than the crust. This has always seemed to me an impossibility, and even an absurdity, and I shall be very glad if any of your correspondents will explain how it is possible. I have always understood that the surface of the earth does not now derive any appreciable portion of its heat from the interior; but if the interior is cooling rapidly, to what can it part with its heat but to the crust? Volcanoes and hot springs no doubt allow a certain portion of heat to escape, but it must be an infinitesimal part of the heat of the entire mass. If the meaning of the statement is, that the heat received from the sun now keeps the surface at a permanent mean temperature, quite irrespective of central heat or cold, and that therefore the loss of heat by volcanoes, &c., causes the centre to cool while the crust does not--this may be admitted, but it is doubtful whether it can have any bearing on the effects observed. For, on this theory, all the compression would take place in that shallow superficial layer which is kept above its normal temperature by the sun's radiation; and as we go back into past time this superficial layer would be thinner and thinner. But all geological evidence goes to show that folded and contorted rocks were subject to compression at considerable depths; and further, that such contortion was greater in comparatively early than in very late geological times--both facts directly opposed to the theory in question. Will any one of our great physicists enlighten us?

Alfred R. Wallace

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S298 (1879)

     [[p. 244]] I have deferred replying to Mr. Fisher's letter (Nature, vol. xix. p. 172) till I had an opportunity of looking at Maxwell's "Theory of Heat;" but, having done so, I am no wiser, for I do not find the point in dispute anywhere referred to. In the "English Cyclopædia," art. "Heat," I find, however, the following statement: "If we suppose the mass of the earth to have been at any remote period at a very high temperature, the effect of the radiation of its heat through the colder surrounding space would be, to cool first the superficial strata, and successively, though in a less degree, the internal strata." This slower cooling of the internal parts of a heated mass seems a necessary result of the "law of exchanges," to which the supposed "more rapid cooling of the interior of the globe than the crust" seems as decidedly opposed.

     Mr. Fisher's illustration certainly shows how the centre might cool more rapidly than the outside, if heat were not subject to laws, and could set the law of exchanges at defiance. He says: "As the people disperse they move off the more quickly the further they get from the dense mass." This would be true for heat, and exactly corresponds to the quotation given above from the "English Cyclopædia;" but it is inconsistent with Mr. Fisher's statement a little further on, that the numbers in an outer belt "may continue about the same, while those in the central crowd become fewer and fewer." The two things are contradictory; and I still fail to see how the "more rapid cooling of the interior of the earth," limited as it must be to that superficial layer within which the effects of solar heat are confined, can be held to furnish a vera causa for the compression and contortion of deeply seated rocks and their upheaval into mountain chains.

Alfred R. Wallace

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S300 (1879)

     [[p. 289]] The letter of the Rev. O. Fisher in Nature, vol. xix. p. 266, is conclusive as to the more rapid cooling of the interior than the outer crust of a heated globe under the conditions of our earth, and I thank him for clearing up the point. But the question remains, whether the amount of contraction of the interior, and consequent crumpling of the crust, thereby produced in a definite time, is sufficient to account for the elevation of our mountains. It is necessary to take account of the following facts:--

     1. That the greater part of the elevation of all our chief mountain ranges occurred during the eocene and miocene periods.

     2. The warmer climates of those periods (certainly due to external and not to internal heat) would have tended to diminish the rate of cooling and consequent contraction of the earth.

     3. The Rev. O. Fisher appears to have demonstrated that, even allowing for the total shrinkage due to the earth's cooling for the last hundred million years (from a mean temperature of 7,000° F., as calculated by Sir William Thomson), the amount of elevation thereby caused would be very much less than that of existing lands and mountains. But we know that these have been lowered by denudation, and again elevated many times over during that period.

     The inadequacy of the alleged cause for the production of our existing mountains would therefore seem to be conclusively established.

Alfred R. Wallace


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