Lake deltas. Deltas are also formed where streams lose their velocity on entering the still waters of lakes. The shore lines of extinct lakes, such as Lake Agassiz and Lakes Bonneville and Lahontan, may be traced by the heavy deposits at the mouths of their tributary streams.
We have seen that the work of streams is to drain the lands of the water poured upon them by the rainfall, to wear them down, and to carry their waste away to the sea, there to be rebuilt by other agents into sedimentary rocks. The ancient strata of which the continents are largely made are composed chiefly of material thus worn from still more ancient lands—lands with their hills and valleys like those of to-day—and carried by their rivers to the ocean. In all geological times, as at the present, the work of streams has been to destroy the lands, and in so doing to furnish to the ocean the materials from which the lands of future ages were to be made. Before we consider how the waste of the land brought in by streams is rebuilt upon the ocean floor, we must proceed to study the work of two agents, glacier ice and the wind, which cooperate with rivers in the denudation of the land.
THE WORK OF GLACIERS
The drift. The surface of northeastern North America, as far south as the Ohio and Missouri rivers, is generally covered by the drift,—a formation which is quite unlike any which we have so far studied. A section of it, such as that illustrated in Figure 87, shows that for the most part it is unstratified, consisting of clay, sand, pebbles, and even large bowlders, all mingled pell-mell together. The agent which laid the drift is one which can carry a load of material of all sizes, from the largest bowlder to the finest clay, and deposit it without sorting.
The stones of the drift are of many kinds. The region from which it was gathered may well have been large in order to supply these many different varieties of rocks. Pebbles and bowlders have been left far from their original homes, as may be seen in southern Iowa, where the drift contains nuggets of copper brought from the region about Lake Superior. The agent which laid the drift is one able to gather its load over a large area and carry it a long way.
The pebbles of the drift are unlike those rounded by running water or by waves. They are marked with scratches. Some are angular, many have had their edges blunted, while others have been ground flat and smooth on one or more sides, like gems which have been faceted by being held firmly against the lapidary’s wheel. In many places the upper surface of the country rock beneath the drift has been swept clean of residual clays and other waste. All rock rotten has been planed away, and the ledges of sound rock to which the surface has been cut down have been rubbed smooth and scratched with long, straight, parallel lines. The agent which laid the drift can hold sand and pebbles firmly in its grasp and can grind them against the rock beneath, thus planing it down and scoring it, while faceting the pebbles also.