Slike stranica

partake of the direction which analogy would teach us such a chain would have, from northeast to southwest, parallel with the Carpathian and the Caucasus ranges.

The great depression of the Old World begins with the deepening of the Volga basin below Simbeersk; and at the place (513° N. lat., near Orenboorg and Saratov) where it breaks through the last row of hills in the Obstshei-Syrtis, it commences a rapid descent toward the Caspian and the Aral Seas. This great concavity, on the confines of Europe and Asia, at the center of the greatest land-mass, and far removed from any ocean, is remarkable as having no parallel on the globe. Humboldt remarks that per haps a similar phenomenon would be repeated at the interior of other continents, if the tertiary formation and the parts found by marine deposit did not exist. It would be profitable to follow out so weighty a thought, with the surface as it now is.

The Obstshei-Syrtis is the moderate range of hills which runs westward in two branches from the Bashkiric-Ural, at Orenboorg, the northern spur running by Uralsk and the Ural River; the southern by Samara, rising on the east shore of the Volga to a height of 600 feet, and ending at Sarepta.

Orenboorg, on the Obstshei-Syrtis, where it leaves the Ural chain, is 255 feet above the sea. Uralsk lies somewhat lower, being 234 feet above the sea. The surface of the Volga, where it breaks through the high banks of Saratov, is only 36 feet above the ocean level; while the western shore, above Saratov, is 562 feet in height. Farther down the river, Sarepta lies 30 feet below the sea level; and there is, therefore, between Saratov and Sarepta, a distance of about 180 miles, a fall of 66 feet. West of the Volga, and following the river, is the continuation of

the Obstshei-Syrtis, ranging in elevation from 562 feet down to 168 feet. At Sarepta, the low hills which thus far have skirted the Volga turn to the southwest, to the Manitsh steppe, sinking to an elevation of but 75 feet, and extending as far as the Sea of Azof. At Sarepta, too, the Volga turns from its normal southerly course, and strikes southeasterly across the Astracan steppe, entering the Caspian at the City of Astracan, 72 feet below the level of the sea. The level of the sea is 4 feet below the shore on which Astracan is built.

The old statements that the level of the Caspian is 30C feet below the ocean, rested solely on conjectures made by the naturalist Pallas. The influence of this great depression on the warmer climate of that region, the peculiar vegetation of the salt steppes, and the salt morasses which exist where the land is perfectly level, as well as the great beds of oyster-shells and other crustaceous remains, led him to the hypothesis that the whole neighboring district is the dry and deserted bed of a former sea, now shrunk to the comparatively insignificant dimensions of the Caspian. The broken line of bold bluffs which bounds the Obstshei-Syrtis on the south seemed to him to be the northern boundary of this inland sea, into which the Volga entered below the pass of Kamyschin and Saratov. Parrot and Engelhardt supposed that their barometrical elevations in 1811 confirmed Pallas' theory, that the Caspian lies 300 feet below the ocean. Many hypotheses were based upon their observations; but the whole were at length brought into discredit by Humboldt, who distrusted the accuracy of instruments made at that time. Nothing but a trigonometrical survey from Taganrog to Astracan could give conclusive results, and this was accomplished in 1837. under the auspices of the Russian government. The re

sult proved that, so far from being 300 or 350 feet below the ocean, the Caspian is not 100 feet. Its depression, as already stated, is about 76 feet.

The level of the Aral Sea, which is evidently closely linked to the Caspian, has not yet been determined with absolute certainty. Barometrical observations were instituted for this end by the expedition under General Berg, which explored that region in the winter of 1826, but the cold was severe, and the results are questionable. The result of their investigations was, however, that the surface of the Aral lies 110 feet higher than that of the Caspian. This would make the Aral to be 34 feet above the sea level. More careful inquiries may, however, determine the level of the two seas to be the same; but at present we have to be content with the results of the expedition referred to, and accept its elevation as 34 feet above the level of the ocean.

Without, however, going into details respecting the Aral, the region around the Caspian and directly connected with it, which is below the ocean level, embraces an area of not less than 131,400 square miles. This survey extends from the Volga to the Ural River, thence to the Emba and the northernmost point of the Sea of Aral, and thence to the salt lakes of Aksakal-Barbi, lying to the northeast of this sea. The tracing of this line from the higher to the lower stages of depression gives clear indications, in the nature of the soil, of the existence of a great sea once occupying that whole tract.

Thus much for the configuration of the Caspian lowland. If to these 131,400 square miles be added the 153,000, or, according to Humboldt, 164,000 square miles of the Caspian itself, the entire depression embraces almost 318,000 square miles, and is greater than France,

greater than Germany, and only to be compared with the whole Austrian empire! If to this great region be added the district around the Aral, which sea alone covers nearly 25,000 square miles, and then to this the yet unmeasured surface covered by seas yet to the eastward, the entire region of depression is immensely increased. And then if to this be added the great Siberian plain, whose level is not greatly above the sea, the combined district would be at least once and a half as great as all Europe.

The Origin of the Ponto-Caspian Depression. Thinking of the immense extent of this depressed region, whose entire surface occupies no inconsiderable fraction of the interior of the Old World, and whose greatest depth at the bottom of the Caspian is from 500 to 600 feet below the level of the ocean, and looking at it as a phenomenon wholly unique, the question arises: How would such a condition be possible, contradicting, as it seems, all analogies? The answer, could we reach it, would not fail to illustrate many recondite geological questions, and to be full of instruction.

Yet the time has not come when a full answer can be given to this inquiry. We have not yet learned the elementary conditions of this remarkable fact; there are innumerable investigations yet to be made, before we can feel perfectly certain that its reason is understood. Still, there have been some preparatory inquiries entered upon, and some preliminary steps taken toward reaching a conclusion, or, at least, toward assuming a reasonable hypothesis. We have already indicated our belief that this depression is connected with a ring of plateaus which have been upheaved around it, and which now inclose it and Isolate it from the ocean.

The hollow has its greatest depth near the southern extremity of the Caspian, where it rises abruptly to the Persian plateau. There pass, in the form of a half circle, the loftiest mountains and plateaus of central Asia. On the west side the Caucasus rises, with its giant peaks of Kasbek and Elbrooz, 15,000 to 17,000 feet high, bearing all the marks of volcanic origin, avalanches of solidified lava on the sides, a lake lying in the abyss of an extinct crater, and the like.

At the southwest, the Armenian plateau follows the course of the Aras from its mouth back to the huge dome of Ararat, 14,656 feet high. The entire geological appearance of that region-the old lava streams, the trachyte rocks-indicate with equal clearness, as in the Caucasus, the agency of volcanic forces in the upheaval of that district. Traces of this great power are also seen in the caldron-shaped hollows, and in the narrow and deep defiles, which are abundant in that region.

South of the Caspian, which in its southern part reaches a depth ranging as low as 420, 480, and 600 feet, and, according to Hanway, even 2700 feet, rise sharply from the sea the Persian Coast Mountains. The plateau of Teheran, 3400 feet in elevation, is directly beyond, from which rise the volcanic peaks of Demavend, 20,000 feet, and Euczan, 6600 feet high. The Coast chain embraces the Elboorz Mountains, uniformly more than 5000 feet high, but which, at Schemrum, northwest of Teheran, rise to a height of 8560 feet; at Churchurah, southwest of Demavend, to 7650 feet; at Nevo, southeast of Demavend, to 8540 feet; at Nejoster, in the Seriakush, east of Demavend, to 7200 feet; and which, above Asterabad, rise in the Shahkush and the Sundukkush to a height of 7270 feet, and almost everywhere display in their trachyte rocks


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