Of the various movements of the crust due to internal agencies we will consider first those called oscillations, which lift or depress large areas so slowly that a long time is needed to produce perceptible changes of level, and which leave the strata in nearly their original horizontal attitude. These movements are most conspicuous along coasts, where they can be referred to the datum plane of sea level; we will therefore take our first illustrations from rising and sinking shores.
New Jersey. Along the coasts of New Jersey one may find awash at high tide ancient shell heaps, the remains of tribal feasts of aborigines. Meadows and old forest grounds, with the stumps still standing, are now overflowed by the sea, and fragments of their turf and wood are brought to shore by waves. Assuming that the sea level remains constant, it is clear that the New Jersey coast is now gradually sinking. The rate of submergence has been estimated at about two feet per century.
On the other hand, the wide coastal plain of New Jersey is made of stratified sands and clays, which, as their marine fossils show, were outspread beneath the sea. Their present position above sea level proves that the land now subsiding emerged in the recent past.
The coast of New Jersey is an example of the slow and tranquil oscillations of the earth’s unstable crust now in progress along many shores. Some are emerging from the sea, some are sinking beneath it; and no part of the land seems to have been exempt from these changes in the past.
Evidences of changes of level. Taking the surface of the sea as a level of reference, we may accept as proofs of relative upheaval whatever is now found in place above sea level and could have been formed only at or beneath it, and as proofs of relative subsidence whatever is now found beneath the sea and could only have been formed above it.
Thus old strand lines with sea cliffs, wave-cut rock benches, and beaches of wave-worn pebbles or sand, are striking proofs of recent emergence to the amount of their present height above tide. No less conclusive is the presence of sea-laid rocks which we may find in the neighboring quarry or outcrop, although it may have been long ages since they were lifted from the sea to form part of the dry land.
Among common proofs of subsidence are roads and buildings and other works of man, and vegetal growths and deposits, such as forest grounds and peat beds, now submerged beneath the sea. In the deltas of many large rivers, such as the Po, the Nile, the Ganges, and the Mississippi, buried soils prove subsidences of hundreds of feet; and in several cases, as in the Mississippi delta, the depression seems to be now in progress.