The Elements of Geology eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 384 pages of information about The Elements of Geology.

Dust falls.  Dust launched by upward-whirling winds on the swift currents of the upper air is often blown for hundreds of miles beyond the arid region from which it was taken.  Dust falls from western storms are not unknown even as far east as the Great Lakes.  In 1896 a “black snow” fell in Chicago, and in another dust storm in the same decade the amount of dust carried in the air over Rock Island, Ill., was estimated at more than one thousand tons to the cubic mile.

In March, 1901, a cyclonic storm carried vast quantities of dust from the Sahara northward across the Mediterranean to fall over southern and central Europe.  On March 8th dust storms raged in southern Algeria; two days later the dust fell in Italy; and on the 11th it had reached central Germany and Denmark.  It is estimated that in these few days one million eight hundred thousand tons of waste were carried from northern Africa and deposited on European soil.

We may see from these examples the importance of the wind as an agent of transportation, and how vast in the aggregate are the loads which it carries.  There are striking differences between air and water as carriers of waste.  Rivers flow in fixed and narrow channels to definite goals.  The channelless streams of the air sweep across broad areas, and, shifting about continually, carry their loads back and forth, now in one direction and now in another.


The mantle of waste of deserts is rapidly sorted by the wind.  The coarser rubbish, too heavy to be lifted into the air, is left to strew wide tracts with residual gravels (Fig. 120).  The sand derived from the disintegration of desert rocks gathers in vast fields.  About one eighth of the surface of the Sahara is said to be thus covered with drifting sand.  In desert mountains, as those of Sinai, it lies like fields of snow in the high valleys below the sharp peaks.  On more level tracts it accumulates in seas of sand, sometimes, as in the deserts of Arabia, two hundred and more feet deep.

Dunes.  The sand thus accumulated by the wind is heaped in wavelike hills called dunes.  In the desert of northwestern India, where the prevalent wind is of great strength, the sand is laid in longitudinal dunes, i.e. in stripes running parallel with the direction of the wind; but commonly dunes lie, like ripple marks, transverse to the wind current.  On the windward side they show a long, gentle slope, up which grains of sand can readily be moved; while to the lee their slope is frequently as great as the angle of repose (Fig. 122).  Dunes whose sands are not fixed by vegetation travel slowly with the wind; for their material is ever shifted forward as the grains are driven up the windward slope and, falling over the crest, are deposited in slanting layers in the quiet of the lee.

Like river deposits, wind-blown sands are stratified, since they are laid by currents of air varying in intensity, and therefore in transporting power, which carry now finer and now coarser materials and lay them down where their velocity is checked (Fig. 123).  Since the wind varies in direction, the strata dip in various directions.  They also dip at various angles, according to the inclination of the surface on which they were laid.

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The Elements of Geology from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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