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Terrestrial Causes Of Climatic Changes

The major portion of this book has been concerned with the explanation

of the more abrupt and extreme changes of climate. This chapter and the

next consider two other sorts of climatic changes, the slight secular

progression during the hundreds of millions of years of recorded earth

history, and especially the long slow geologic oscillations of millions

or tens of millions of years. It is generally agreed among geologists

/> that the progressive change has tended toward greater extremes of

climate; that is, greater seasonal contrasts, and greater contrasts from

place to place and from zone to zone.[70] The slow cyclic changes have

been those that favored widespread glaciation at one extreme near the

ends of geologic periods and eras, and mild temperatures even in

subpolar regions at the other extreme during the medial portions of the


As has been pointed out in an earlier chapter, it has often been assumed

that all climatic changes are due to terrestrial causes. We have seen,

however, that there is strong evidence that solar variations play a

large part in modifying the earth's climate. We have also seen that no

known terrestrial agency appears to be able to produce the abrupt

changes noted in recent years, the longer cycles of historical times, or

geological changes of the shorter type, such as glaciation.

Nevertheless, terrestrial changes doubtless have assisted in producing

both the progressive change and the slow cyclic changes recorded in the

rocks, and it is the purpose of this chapter and the two that follow to

consider what terrestrial changes have taken place and the probable

effect of such changes.

The terrestrial changes that have a climatic significance are numerous.

Some, such as variations in the amount of volcanic dust in the higher

air, have been considered in an earlier chapter. Others are too

imperfectly known to warrant discussion, and in addition there are

presumably others which are entirely unknown. Doubtless some of these

little known or unknown changes have been of importance in modifying

climate. For example, the climatic influence of vegetation, animals, and

man may be appreciable. Here, however, we shall confine ourselves to

purely physical causes, which will be treated in the following order:

First, those concerned with the solid parts of the earth, namely: (I)

amount of land; (II) distribution of land; (III) height of land; (IV)

lava flows; and (V) internal heat. Second, those which arise from the

salinity of oceans, and third, those depending on the composition and

amount of atmosphere.

The terrestrial change which appears indirectly to have caused the

greatest change in climate is the contraction of the earth. The problem

of contraction is highly complex and is as yet only imperfectly

understood. Since only its results and not its processes influence

climate, the following section as far as page 196 is not necessary to

the general reader. It is inserted in order to explain why we assume

that there have been oscillations between certain types of distribution

of the lands.

The extent of the earth's contraction may be judged from the shrinkage

indicated by the shortening of the rock formations in folded mountains

such as the Alps, Juras, Appalachians, and Caucasus. Geologists are

continually discovering new evidence of thrust faults of great magnitude

where masses of rock are thrust bodily over other rocks, sometimes for

many miles. Therefore, the estimates of the amount of shrinkage based on

the measurements of folds and faults need constant revision upward.

Nevertheless, they have already reached a considerable figure. For

example, in 1919, Professor A. Heim estimated the shortening of the

meridian passing through the modern Alps and the ancient Hercynian and

Caledonian mountains as fully a thousand miles in Europe, and over five

hundred miles for the rest of this meridian.[71] This is a radial

shortening of about 250 miles. Possibly the shrinkage has been even

greater than this. Chamberlin[72] has compared the density of the earth,

moon, Mars, and Venus with one another, and found it probable that the

radial shrinkage of the earth may be as much as 570 miles. This result

is not so different from Heim's as appears at first sight, for Heim made

no allowance for unrecognized thrust faults and for the contraction

incident to metamorphism. Moreover, Heim did not include shrinkage

during the first half of geological time before the above-mentioned

mountain systems were upheaved.

According to a well-established law of physics, contraction of a

rotating body results in more rapid rotation and greater centrifugal

force. These conditions must increase the earth's equatorial bulge and

thereby cause changes in the distribution of land and water. Opposed to

the rearrangement of the land due to increased rotation caused by

contraction, there has presumably been another rearrangement due to

tidal retardation of the earth's rotation and a consequent lessening of

the equatorial bulge. G. H. Darwin long ago deduced a relatively large

retardation due to lunar tides. A few years ago W. D. MacMillan, on

other assumptions, deduced only a negligible retardation. Still more

recently Taylor[73] has studied the tides of the Irish Sea, and his work

has led Jeffreys[74] and Brown[75] to conclude that there has been

considerable retardation, perhaps enough, according to Brown, to equal

the acceleration due to the earth's contraction. From a prolonged and

exhaustive study of the motions of the moon Brown concludes that tidal

friction or some other cause is now lengthening the day at the rate of

one second per thousand years, or an hour in almost four million years

if the present rate continues. He makes it clear that the retardation

due to tides would not correspond in point of time with the acceleration

due to contraction. The retardation would occur slowly, and would take

place chiefly during the long quiet periods of geologic history, while

the acceleration would occur rapidly at times of diastrophic

deformation. As a consequence, the equatorial bulge would alternately be

reduced at a slow rate, and then somewhat suddenly augmented.

The less rigid any part of the earth is, the more quickly it responds to

the forces which lead to bulging or which tend to lessen the bulge.

Since water is more fluid than land, the contraction of the earth and

the tidal retardation presumably tend alternately to increase and

decrease the amount of water near the equator more than the amount of

land. Thus, throughout geological history we should look for cyclic

changes in the relative area of the lands within the tropics and similar

changes of opposite phase in higher latitudes. The extent of the change

would depend upon (a) the amount of alteration in the speed of rotation,

and (b) the extent of low land in low latitudes and of shallow sea in

high latitudes. According to Slichter's tables, if the earth should

rotate in twenty-three hours instead of twenty-four, the great Amazon

lowland would be submerged by the inflow of oceanic water, while wide

areas in Hudson Bay, the North Sea, and other northern regions, would

become land because the ocean water would flow away from them.[76]

Following the prompt equatorward movement of water which would occur as

the speed of rotation increased, there must also be a gradual movement

or creepage of the solid rocks toward the equator, that is, a bulging of

the ocean floor and of the lands in low latitudes, with a consequent

emergence of the lands there and a relative rise of sea level in higher

latitudes. Tidal retardation would have a similar effect. Suess[77] has

described widespread elevated strand lines in the tropics which he

interprets as indicating a relatively sudden change in sea level, though

he does not suggest a cause of the change. However, in speaking of

recent geological times, Suess reports that a movement more recent than

the old strands "was an accumulation of water toward the equator, a

diminution toward the poles, and (it appears) as though this last

movement were only one of the many oscillations which succeed each other

with the same tendency, i.e., with a positive excess at the equator, a

negative excess at the poles." (Vol. II, p. 551.) This creepage of the

rocks equatorward seemingly might favor the growth of mountains in

tropical and subtropical regions, because it is highly improbable that

the increase in the bulge would go on in all longitudes with perfect

uniformity. Where it went on most rapidly mountains would arise. That

such irregularity of movement has actually occurred is suggested not

only by the fact that many Cenozoic and older mountain ranges extend

east and west, but by the further fact that these include some of our

greatest ranges, many of which are in fairly low latitudes. The

Himalayas, the Javanese ranges, and the half-submerged Caribbean chains

are examples. Such mountains suggest a thrust in a north and south

direction which is just what would happen if the solid mass of the earth

were creeping first equatorward and then poleward.

A fact which is in accord with the idea of a periodic increase in the

oceans in low latitudes because of renewed bulging at the equator is the

exposure in moderately high latitudes of the greatest extent of ancient

rocks. This seems to mean that in low latitudes the frequent deepening

of the oceans has caused the old rocks to be largely covered by

sediments, while the old lands in higher latitudes have been left more

fully exposed to erosion.

Another suggestion of such periodic equatorward movements of the ocean

water is found in the reported contrast between the relative stability

with which the northern part of North America has remained slightly

above sea level except at times of widespread submergence, while the

southern parts have suffered repeated submergence alternating with great

emergence.[78] Furthermore, although the northern part of North America

has been generally exposed to erosion since the Proterozoic, it has

supplied much less sediment than have the more southern land areas.[79]

This apparently means that much of Canada has stood relatively low,

while repeated and profound uplift alternating with depression has

occurred in subtropical latitudes, apparently in adjustment to changes

in the earth's speed of rotation. The uplifts generally followed the

times of submergence due to equatorward movement of the water, though

the buckling of the crust which accompanies shrinkage doubtless caused

some of the submergence. The evidence that northern North America stood

relatively low throughout much of geological time depends not only on

the fact that little sediment came to the south from the north, but also

on the fact that at times of especially widespread epicontinental seas,

the submergence was initiated at the north.[80] This is especially true

for Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, and Jurassic times in North America.

General submergence of this kind is supposed to be due chiefly to the

overflowing of the ocean when its level is slowly raised by the

deposition of sediment derived from the erosion of what once were

continental highlands but later are peneplains. The fact that such

submergence began in high latitudes, however, seems to need a further

explanation. The bulging of the rock sphere at the equator and the

consequent displacement of some of the water in low latitudes would

furnish such an explanation, as would also a decrease in the speed of

rotation induced by tidal retardation, if that retardation were great

enough and rapid enough to be geologically effective.

The climatic effects of the earth's contraction, which we shall shortly

discuss, are greatly complicated by the fact that contraction has taken

place irregularly. Such irregularity has occurred in spite of the fact

that the processes which cause contraction have probably gone on quite

steadily throughout geological history. These processes include the

chemical reorganization of the minerals of the crust, a process which is

illustrated by the metamorphism of sedimentary rocks into crystalline

forms. The escape of gases through volcanic action or otherwise has been

another important process.

Although the processes which cause contraction probably go on steadily,

their effect, as Chamberlin[81] and others have pointed out, is probably

delayed by inertia. Thus the settling of the crust or its movement on a

large scale is delayed. Perhaps the delay continues until the stresses

become so great that of themselves they overcome the inertia, or

possibly some outside agency, whose nature we shall consider later,

reenforces the stresses and gives the slight impulse which is enough to

release them and allow the earth's crust to settle into a new state of

equilibrium. When contraction proceeds actively, the ocean segments,

being largest and heaviest, are likely to settle most, resulting in a

deepening of the oceans and an emergence of the lands. Following each

considerable contraction there would be an increase in the speed of

rotation. The repeated contractions with consequent growth of the

equatorial bulge would alternate with long quiet periods during which

tidal retardation would again decrease the speed of rotation and hence

lessen the bulge. The result would be repeated changes of distribution

of land and water, with consequent changes in climate.

I. We shall now consider the climatic effect of the repeated changes in

the relative amounts of land and water which appear to have resulted

from the earth's contraction and from changes in its speed of rotation.

During many geologic epochs a larger portion of the earth was covered

with water than at present. For example, during at least twelve out of

about twenty epochs, North America has suffered extensive

inundations,[82] and in general the extensive submergence of Europe, the

other area well known geologically, has coincided with that of North

America. At other times, the ocean has been less extensive than now, as

for example during the recent glacial period, and probably during

several of the glacial periods of earlier date. Each of the numerous

changes in the relative extent of the lands must have resulted in a

modification of climate.[83] This modification would occur chiefly

because water becomes warm far more slowly than land, and cools off far

more slowly.

An increase in the lands would cause changes in several climatic

conditions. (a) The range of temperature between day and night and

between summer and winter would increase, for lands become warmer by day

and in summer than do oceans, and cooler at night and in winter. The

higher summer temperature when the lands are widespread is due chiefly

to the fact that the land, if not snow-covered, absorbs more of the

sun's radiant energy than does the ocean, for its reflecting power is

low. The lower winter temperature when lands are widespread occurs not

only because they cool off rapidly but because the reduced oceans cannot

give them so much heat. Moreover, the larger the land, the more

generally do the winds blow outward from it in winter and thus prevent

the ocean heat from being carried inland. So long as the ocean is not

frozen in high latitudes, it is generally the chief source of heat in

winter, for the nights are several months long near the poles, and even

when the sun does shine its angle is so low that reflection from the

snow is very great. Furthermore, although on the average there is more

reflection from water than from land, the opposite is true in high

latitudes in winter when the land is snow-covered while the ocean is

relatively dark and is roughened by the waves. Another factor in causing

large lands to have extremely low temperature in winter is the fact that

in proportion to their size they are less protected by fog and cloud

than are smaller areas. The belt of cloud and fog which is usually

formed when the wind blows from the ocean to the relatively cold land is

restricted to the coastal zone. Thus the larger the land, the smaller

the fraction in which loss of heat by radiation is reduced by clouds and

fogs. Hence an increase in the land area is accompanied by an increase

in the contrasts in temperature between land and water.

(b) The contrasts in temperature thus produced must cause similar

contrasts in atmospheric pressure, and hence stronger barometric

gradients. (c) The strong gradients would mean strong winds, flowing

from land to sea or from sea to land. (d) Local convection would also be

strengthened in harmony with the expansion of the lands, for the more

rapid heating of land than of water favors active convection.

(e) As the extent of the ocean diminished, there would normally be a

decrease in the amount of water vapor for three reasons: (1) Evaporation

from the ocean is the great source of water vapor. Other conditions

being equal, the smaller the ocean becomes, the less the evaporation.

(2) The amount of water vapor in the air diminishes as convection

increases, since upward convection is a chief method by which

condensation and precipitation are produced, and water vapor removed

from the atmosphere. (3) Nocturnal cooling sufficient to produce dew and

frost is very much more common upon land than upon the ocean. The

formation of dew and frost diminishes the amount of water vapor at least

temporarily. (f) Any diminution in water vapor produced in these ways,

or otherwise, is significant because water vapor is the most essential

part of the atmosphere so far as regulation of temperature is concerned.

It tends to keep the days from becoming hot or the nights cold.

Therefore any decrease in water vapor would increase the diurnal and

seasonal range of temperature, making the climate more extreme and

severe. Thus a periodic increase in the area of the continents would

clearly make for periodic increased climatic contrasts, with great

extremes, a type of climatic change which has recurred again and again.

Indeed, each great glaciation accompanied or followed extensive

emergence of the lands.[84]

Whether or not there has been a progressive increase from era to era

in the area of the lands is uncertain. Good authorities disagree widely.

There is no doubt, however, that at present the lands are more extensive

than at most times in the past, though smaller, perhaps, than at certain

periods. The wide expanse of lands helps explain the prominence of

seasons at present as compared with the past.

II. The contraction of the earth, as we have seen, has produced great

changes in the distribution as well as in the extent of land and water.

Large parts of the present continents have been covered repeatedly by

the sea, and extensive areas now covered with water have been land. In

recent geological times, that is, during the Pliocene and Pleistocene,

much of the present continental shelf, the zone less than 600 feet below

sea level, was land. If the whole shelf had been exposed, the lands

would have been greater than at present by an area larger than North

America. When the lands were most elevated, or a little earlier, North

America was probably connected with Asia and almost with Europe. Asia in

turn was apparently connected with the larger East Indian islands. In

much earlier times land occupied regions where now the ocean is fairly

deep. Groups of islands, such as the East Indies and Malaysia and

perhaps the West Indies, were united into widespreading land masses.

Figs. 7 and 9, illustrating the paleography of the Permian and the

Cretaceous periods, respectively, indicate a land distribution radically

different from that of today.

So far as appears from the scattered facts of geological history, the

changes in the distribution of land seem to have been marked by the

following characteristics: (1) Accompanying the differentiation of

continental and oceanic segments of the earth's crust, the oceans have

become somewhat deeper, and their basins perhaps larger, while the

continents, on the average, have been more elevated and less subject to

submergence. Hence there have been less radical departures from the

present distribution during the relatively recent Cenozoic era than in

the ancient Paleozoic because the submergence of continental areas has

become less general and less frequent. For example, the last extensive

epeiric or interior sea in North America was in the Cretaceous, at least

ten million years ago, and according to Barrell perhaps fifty million,

while in Europe, according to de Lapparent,[85] a smaller share of the

present continent has been submerged since the Cretaceous than before.

Indeed, as in North America, the submergence has decreased on the

average since the Paleozoic era. (2) The changes in distribution of land

which have taken place during earth history have been cyclic.

Repeatedly, at the close of each of the score or so of geologic periods,

the continents emerged more or less, while at the close of the groups of

periods known as eras, the lands were especially large and emergent.

After each emergence, a gradual encroachment of the sea took place, and

toward the close of several of the earlier periods, the sea appears to

have covered a large fraction of the present land areas. (3) On the

whole, the amount of land in the middle and high latitudes of the

northern hemisphere appears to have increased during geologic time. Such

an increase does not require a growth of the continents, however, in the

broader sense of the term, but merely that a smaller fraction of the

continent and its shelf should be submerged. (4) In tropical latitudes,

on the other hand, the extent of the lands seems to have decreased,

apparently by the growth of the ocean basins. South America and Africa

are thought by many students to have been connected, and Africa was

united with India via Madagascar, as is suggested in Fig. 9. The most

radical cyclic as well as the most radical progressive changes in land

distribution also seem to have taken place in tropical regions.[86]

(After Schuchert.)]

Although there is much evidence of periodic increase of the sea in

equatorial latitudes and of land in high latitudes, it has remained for

the zooelogist Metcalf to present a very pretty bit of evidence that at

certain times submergence along the equator coincided with emergence in

high latitudes, and vice versa. Certain fresh water frogs which carry

the same internal parasite are confined to two widely separated areas in

tropical and south temperate America and in Australia. The extreme

improbability that both the frogs and the parasites could have

originated independently in two unconnected areas and could have

developed by convergent evolution so that they are almost identical in

the two continents makes it almost certain that there must have been a

land connection between South America and Australia, presumably by way

of Antarctica. The facts as to the parasites seem also to prove that

while the land connection existed there was a sea across South America

in equatorial latitudes. The parasite infests not only the frogs but the

American toads known as Bufo. Now Bufo originated north of the equator

in America and differs from the frogs which originated in southern South

America in not being found in Australia. This raises the question of how

the frogs could go to Australia via Antarctica carrying the parasite

with them, while the toads could not go. Metcalf's answer is that the

toads were cut off from the southern part of South America by an

equatorial sea until after the Antarctic connection between the Old

World and the New was severed.

As Patagonia let go of Antarctica by subsidence of the intervening

land area, there was a probable concomitant rise of land through

what is now middle South America and the northern and southern

portions of this continent came together.[87]

These various changes in the earth's crust have given rise to certain

specific types of distribution of the lands, which will now be

considered. We shall inquire what climatic conditions would arise from

changes in (a) the continuity of the lands from north to south, (b) the

amount of land in tropical latitudes, and (c) the amount of land in

middle and high latitudes.

(a) At present the westward drift of warm waters, set in motion by the

trade winds, is interrupted by land masses and turned poleward,

producing the important Gulf Stream Drift and Japan Current in the

northern hemisphere, and corresponding, though less important, currents

in the southern hemisphere. During the past, quite different sets of

ocean currents doubtless have existed in response to a different

distribution of land. Repeatedly, in the mid-Cretaceous (Fig. 9) and

several other periods, the present American barrier to the westward

moving tropical current was broken in Central America. Even if the

supposed continent of "Gondwana Land" extended from Africa to South

America in equatorial latitudes, strong currents must still have flowed

westward along its northern shore under the impulse of the peculiarly

strong trade winds which the equatorial land would create. Nevertheless

at such times relatively little warm tropical water presumably entered

the North Atlantic, for it escaped into the Pacific. At several other

times, such as the late Ordovician and mid-Devonian, when the isthmian

barrier existed, it probably turned an important current northward into

what is now the Mississippi Basin instead of into the Atlantic. There it

traversed an epeiric, or mid-continental sea open to both north and

south. Hence its effectiveness in warming Arctic regions must have been

quite different from that of the present Gulf Stream.

(b) We will next consider the influences of changes in the amount of

equatorial and tropical land. As such lands are much hotter than the

corresponding seas, the intensity and width of the equatorial belt of

low pressure must be great when they are extensive. Hence the trade

winds must have been stronger than now whenever tropical lands were more

extensive than at present. This is because the trades are produced by

the convection due to excessive heat along the heat equator. There the

air expands upward and flows poleward at high altitudes. The trade wind

consists of air moving toward the heat equator to take the place of the

air which there rises. When the lands in low latitudes were wide the

trade winds must also have dominated a wide belt. The greater width of

the trade-wind belt today over Africa than over the Atlantic illustrates

the matter. The belt must have been still wider when Gondwana Land was

large, as it is believed to have been during the Paleozoic era and the

early Mesozoic.

An increase in the width of the equatorial belt of low pressure under

the influence of broad tropical lands would be accompanied not only by

stronger and more widespread trade winds, but by a corresponding

strengthening of the subtropical belts of high pressure. The chief

reason would be the greater expansion of the air in the equatorial low

pressure belt and the consequent more abundant outflow of air at high

altitudes in the form of anti-trades or winds returning poleward above

the trades. Such winds would pile up the air in the region of the

high-pressure belt. Moreover, since the meridians converge as one

proceeds away from the equator, the air of the poleward-moving

anti-trades tends to be crowded as it reaches higher latitudes, thus

increasing the pressure. Unless there were a corresponding increase in

tropical cyclones, one of the most prominent results of the strengthened

trades and the intensified subtropical high-pressure belt at times of

broad lands in low latitudes would be great deserts. It will be recalled

that the trade-wind lowlands and the extra-tropical belt of highs are

the great desert belts at present. The trade-wind lowlands are desert

because air moving into warmer latitudes takes up water except where it

is cooled by rising on mountain-sides. The belt of highs is arid because

there, too, air is being warmed, but in this case by descending from


Again, if the atmospheric pressure in the subtropical belt should be

intensified, the winds flowing poleward from this belt would necessarily

become stronger. These would begin as southwesterlies in the northern

hemisphere and northwesterlies in the southern. In the preceding chapter

we have seen that such winds, especially when cyclonic storms are few

and mild, are a powerful agent in transferring subtropical heat

poleward. If the strength of the westerlies were increased because of

broad lands in low latitudes, their efficacy in transferring heat would

be correspondingly augmented. It is thus evident that any change in the

extent of tropical lands during the geologic past must have had

important climatic consequences in changing the velocity of the

atmospheric circulation and in altering the transfer of heat from low

latitudes to high. When the equatorial and tropical lands were broad the

winds and currents must have been strong, much heat must have been

carried away from low latitudes, and the contrast between low and high

latitudes must have been relatively slight. As we have already remarked,

leading paleogeographers believe that changes in the extent of the lands

have been especially marked in low latitudes, and that on the average

there has been a decrease in the extent of land within the tropics.

Gondwana Land is the greatest illustration of this. In the same way, on

the numerous paleogeographic maps of North America, most

paleogeographers have shown fairly extensive lands south of the latitude

of the United States during most of the geologic epochs.[88]

(c) There is evidence that during geologic history the area of the lands

in middle and high latitudes, as well as in low latitudes, has changed

radically. An increase in such lands would cause the winters to grow

colder. This would be partly because of the loss of heat by radiation

into the cold dry air over the continents in winter, and partly because

of increased reflection from snow and frost, which gather much more

widely upon the land than upon the ocean. Furthermore, in winter when

the continents are relatively cold, there is a strong tendency for winds

to blow out from the continent toward the ocean. The larger the land the

stronger this tendency. In Asia it gives rise to strong winter monsoons.

The effect of such winds is illustrated by the way in which the

westerlies prevent the Gulf Stream from warming the eastern United

States in winter. The Gulf Stream warms northwestern Europe much more

than the United States because, in Europe, the prevailing winds are


Another effect of an increase in the area of the lands in middle and

high latitudes would be to interpose barriers to oceanic circulation and

thus lower the temperature of polar regions. This would not mean

glaciation in high latitudes, however, even when the lands were

widespread as in the Mesozoic and early Tertiary. Students of glaciology

are more and more thoroughly convinced that glaciation depends on the

availability of moisture even more than upon low temperature.

In conclusion it may be noted that each of the several climatic

influences of increased land area in the high latitudes would tend to

increase the contrasts between land and sea, between winter and summer,

and between low latitudes and high. In other words, so far as the effect

upon high latitudes themselves is concerned, an expansion of the lands

there would tend in the same direction as a diminution in low latitudes.

In so far as the general trend of geological evolution has been toward

more land in high latitudes and less in low, it would help to produce a

progressive increase in climatic diversity such as is faintly indicated

in the rock strata. On the other hand, the oscillations in the

distribution of the lands, of which geology affords so much evidence,

must certainly have played an important part in producing the periodic

changes of climate which the earth has undergone.

III. Throughout geological history there is abundant evidence that the

process of contraction has led to marked differences not only in the

distribution and area of the lands, but in their height. On the whole

the lands have presumably increased in height since the Proterozoic,

somewhat in proportion to the increased differentiation of continents

and oceans.[89] If there has been such an increase, the contrast between

the climate of ocean and land must have been accentuated, for highlands

have a greater diurnal and seasonal range of temperature than do

lowlands. The ocean has very little range of either sort. The large

range at high altitudes is due chiefly to the small quantity of water

vapor, for this declines steadily with increased altitude. A diminution

in the density of the other constituents of the air also decreases the

blanketing effect of the atmosphere. In conformity with the great

seasonal range in temperature at times when the lands stand high, the

direction of the wind would be altered. When the lands are notably

warmer than the oceans, the winds commonly flow from land to sea, and

when the continents are much colder than the oceans, the direction is

reversed. The monsoons of Asia are examples. Strong seasonal winds

disturb the normal planetary circulation of the trade winds in low

latitudes and of the westerlies in middle latitudes. They also interfere

with the ocean currents set in motion by the planetary winds. The net

result is to hinder the transfer of heat from low latitudes to high, and

thus to increase the contrasts between the zones. Local as well as zonal

contrasts are also intensified. The higher the land, the greater,

relatively speaking, are the cloudiness and precipitation on seaward

slopes, and the drier the interior. Indeed, most highlands are arid.

Henry's[90] recent study of the vertical distribution of rainfall on

mountain-sides indicates that a decrease sets in at about 3500 feet in

the tropics and only a little higher in mid-latitudes.

In addition to the main effects upon atmospheric circulation and

precipitation, each of the many upheavals of the lands must have been

accompanied by many minor conditions which tended toward diversity. For

example, the streams were rejuvenated, and instead of meandering perhaps

over vast flood plains they intrenched their channels and in many cases

dug deep gorges. The water table was lowered, soil was removed from

considerable areas, the bare rock was exposed, and the type of dominant

vegetation altered in many places. An almost barren ridge may represent

all that remains of what was once a vast forested flood plain. Thus,

increased elevation of the land produces contrasted conditions of slope,

vegetation, availability of ground water, exposure to wind and so forth,

and these unite in diversifying climate. Where mountains are formed,

strong contrasts are sure to occur. The windward slopes may be very

rainy, while neighboring leeward slopes are parched by a dry foehn wind.

At the same time the tops may be snow-covered. Increased local contrasts

in climatic conditions are known to influence the intensity of cyclonic

storms,[91] and these affect the climatic conditions of all middle and

high latitudes, if not of the entire earth. The paths followed by

cyclonic storms are also altered by increased contrast between land and

water. When the continents are notably colder than the neighboring

oceans, high atmospheric pressure develops on the lands and interferes

with the passage of lows, which are therefore either deflected around

the continent or forced to move slowly.

The distribution of lofty mountains has an even more striking climatic

effect than the general uplift of a region. In Proterozoic times there

was a great range in the Lake Superior region; in the late Devonian the

Acadian mountains of New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada

possibly attained a height equal to the present Rockies. Subsequently,

in the late Paleozoic a significant range stood where the Ouachitas now

are. Accompanying the uplift of each of these ranges, and all others,

the climate of the surrounding area, especially to leeward, must have

been altered greatly. Many extensive salt deposits found now in fairly

humid regions, for example, the Pennsylvanian and Permian deposits of

Kansas and Oklahoma, were probably laid down in times of local aridity

due to the cutting off of moisture-bearing winds by the mountains of

Llanoria in Louisiana and Texas. Hence such deposits do not necessarily

indicate periods of widespread and profound aridity.

When the causes of ancient glaciation were first considered by

geologists, about the middle of the nineteenth century, it was usually

assumed that the glaciated areas had been elevated to great heights, and

thus rendered cold enough to permit the accumulation of glaciers. The

many glaciers occurring in the Alps of central Europe where glaciology

arose doubtless suggested this explanation. However, it is now known

that most of the ancient glaciation was not of the alpine type, and

there is adequate proof that the glacial periods cannot be explained as

due directly and solely to uplift. Nevertheless, upheavals of the lands

are among the most important factors in controlling climate, and

variations in the height of the lands have doubtless assisted in

producing climate oscillations, especially those of long duration.

Moreover, the progressive increase in the height of the lands has

presumably played a part in fostering local and zonal diversity in

contrast with the relative uniformity of earlier geological times.

IV. The contraction of the earth has been accompanied by volcanic

activity as well as by changes in the extent, distribution, and altitude

of the lands. The probable part played by volcanic dust as a

contributory factor in producing short sudden climatic variations has

already been discussed. There is, however, another though probably less

important respect in which volcanic activity may have had at least a

slight climatic significance. The oldest known rocks, those of the

Archean era, contain so much igneous matter that many students have

assumed that they show that the entire earth was once liquid. It is now

considered that they merely indicate igneous activity of great

magnitude. In the later part of Proterozoic time, during the second

quarter of the earth's history according to Schuchert's estimate, there

were again vast outflowings of lava. In the Lake Superior district, for

example, a thickness of more than a mile accumulated over a large area,

and lavas are common in many areas where rocks of this age are known.

The next quarter of the earth's history elapsed without any

correspondingly great outflows so far as is known, though several lesser

ones occurred. Toward the end of the last quarter, and hence quite

recently from the geological standpoint, another period of outflows,

perhaps as noteworthy as that of the Proterozoic, occurred in the

Cretaceous and Tertiary.

The climatic effects of such extensive lava flows would be essentially

as follows: In the first place so long as the lavas were hot they would

set up a local system of convection with inflowing winds. This would

interfere at least a little with the general winds of the area. Again,

where the lava flowed out into water, or where rain fell upon hot lava,

there would be rapid evaporation which would increase the rainfall. Then

after the lava had cooled, it would still influence climate a trifle in

so far as its color was notably darker or lighter than that of the

average surface. Dark surfaces absorb solar heat and become relatively

warm when the sun shines upon them. Dark objects likewise radiate heat

more rapidly than light-colored objects. Hence they cool more rapidly at

night, and in the winter. As most lavas are relatively dark they

increase the average diurnal range of temperature. Hence even after they

are cool they increase the climatic diversity of the land.

The amount of heat given to the atmosphere by an extensive lava flow,

though large according to human standards, is small compared with the

amount received from the sun by a like area, except during the first few

weeks or months before the lava has formed a thick crust. Furthermore,

probably only a small fraction of any large series of flows occurred in

a given century or millennium. Moreover, even the largest lava flows

covered an area of only a few hundredths of one per cent of the earth's

surface. Nevertheless, the conditions which modify climate are so

complicated that it would be rash to state that this amount of

additional heat has been of no climatic significance. Like the

proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back," the changes it would

surely produce in local convection, atmospheric pressure, and the

direction of the wind may have helped to shift the paths of storms and

to produce other complications which were of appreciable climatic


V. The last point which we shall consider in connection with the effect

of the earth's interior upon climate is internal heat. The heat given

off by lavas is merely a small part of that which is emitted by the

earth as a whole. In the earliest part of geological history enough heat

may have escaped from the interior of the earth to exert a profound

influence on the climate. Knowlton,[92] as we have seen, has recently

built up an elaborate theory on this assumption. At present, however,

accurate measurements show that the escape of heat is so slight that it

has no appreciable influence except in a few volcanic areas. It is

estimated to raise the average temperature of the earth's surface less

than 0.1 deg.C.[93]

In order to contribute enough heat to raise the surface temperature

1 deg.C., the temperature gradient from the interior of the earth to the

surface would need to be ten times as great as now, for the rate of

conduction varies directly with the gradient. If the gradient were ten

times as great as now, the rocks at a depth of two and one-half miles

would be so hot as to be almost liquid according to Barrell's[94]

estimates. The thick strata of unmetamorphosed Paleozoic rocks indicate

that such high temperatures have not prevailed at such slight depths

since the Proterozoic. Furthermore, the fact that the climate was cold

enough to permit glaciation early in the Proterozoic era and at from one

to three other times before the opening of the Paleozoic suggests that

the rate of escape of heat was not rapid even in the first half of the

earth's recorded history. Yet even if the general escape of heat has

never been large since the beginning of the better-known part of

geological history, it was presumably greater in early times than at


If there actually has been an appreciable decrease in the amount of heat

given out by the earth's interior, its effects would agree with the

observed conditions of the geological record. It would help to explain

the relative mildness of zonal, seasonal, and local contrasts of climate

in early geological times, but it would not help to explain the long

oscillations from era to era which appear to have been of much greater

importance. Those oscillations, so far as we can yet judge, may have

been due in part to solar changes, but in large measure they seem to be

explained by variations in the extent, distribution, and altitude of the

lands. Such variations appear to be the inevitable result of the earth's



[Footnote 70: Chas. Schuchert: The Earth's Changing Surface and Climate

during Geologic Time; in Lull: The Evolution of the Earth and Its

Inhabitants, 1918, p. 55.]

[Footnote 71: Quoted by J. Cornet: Cours de Geologie, 1920, p. 330.]

[Footnote 72: T. C. Chamberlin: The Order of Magnitude of the Shrinkage

of the Earth; Jour. Geol., Vol. 28, 1920, pp. 1-17, 126-157.]

[Footnote 73: G. I. Taylor: Philosophical Transactions, A. 220, 1919,

pp. 1-33; Monthly Notices Royal Astron. Soc., Jan., 1920, Vol. 80,

p. 308.]

[Footnote 74: J. Jeffreys: Monthly Notices Royal Astron. Soc., Jan.,

1920, Vol. 80, p. 309.]

[Footnote 75: E. W. Brown: personal communication.]

[Footnote 76: C. S. Slichter: The Rotational Period of a Heterogeneous

Spheroid; in Contributions to the Fundamental Problems of Geology, by

T. C. Chamberlin, et al., Carnegie Inst. of Wash., No. 107, 1909.]

[Footnote 77: E. Suess: The Face of the Earth, Vol. II, p. 553, 1901.]

[Footnote 78: Chas. Schuchert: The Earth's Changing Surface and Climate;

in Lull: The Evolution of the Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1918, p. 78.]

[Footnote 79: J. Barren: Rhythms and the Measurement of Geologic Time;

Bull. Geol. Soc. Am., Vol. 28, 1917, p. 838.]

[Footnote 80: Chas. Schuchert: loc. cit., p. 78.]

[Footnote 81: T. C. Chamberlin: Diastrophism, the Ultimate Basis of

Correlation; Jour. Geol., Vol. 16, 1909; Chas. Schuchert: loc. cit.]

[Footnote 82: Pirsson-Schuchert: Textbook of Geology, 1915, Vol. II, p.

982; Chas. Schuchert: Paleogeography of North America; Bull. Geol. Soc.

Am., Vol. 20, pp. 427-606; reference on p. 499.]

[Footnote 83: The general subject of the climatic significance of

continentality is discussed by C. E. P. Brooks: continentality and

Temperature; Quart. Jour. Royal Meteorol. Soc., April, 1917, and Oct.,


[Footnote 84: Chas. Schuchert: Climates of Geologic Time; in The

Climatic Factor; Carnegie Institution, 1914, p. 286.]

[Footnote 85: A. de Lapparent: Traite de Geologie, 1906.]

[Footnote 86: Chas. Schuchert: Historical Geology, 1915, p. 464.]

[Footnote 87: M. M. Metcalf: Upon an important method of studying

problems of relationship and of geographical distribution; Proceedings

National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 6, July, 1920, pp. 432-433.]

[Footnote 88: Chas. Schuchert: Paleogeography of North America; Bull.

Geol. Soc. Am., Vol. 20, 1910; and Willis, Salisbury, and others:

Outlines of Geologic History, 1910.]

[Footnote 89: Chas. Schuchert: The Earth's Changing Surface and Climate;

in Lull: The Evolution of the Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1918, p. 50.]

[Footnote 90: A. J. Henry: The Decrease of Precipitation with Altitude;

Monthly Weather Review, Vol. 47, 1919, pp. 33-41.]

[Footnote 91: Chas. F. Brooks: Monthly Weather Review, Vol. 46, 1918, p.

511; and also A. J. Henry and others: Weather Forecasting in the United

States, 1913.]

[Footnote 92: F. H. Knowlton: Evolution of Geologic Climates; Bull.

Geol. Soc. Am., Vol. 30, Dec., 1919, pp. 499-566.]

[Footnote 93: Talbert, quoted by I. Bowman: Forest Physiography, 1911,

p. 63.]

[Footnote 94: J. Barrell: Rhythms and the Measurement of Geologic Time;

Bull. Geol. Soc. Am., Vol. 28, 1917, pp. 745-904.]