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VEGETATION OF THE LAURENTIAN AND EARLY PALÆO
ZOIC-QUESTIONS AS TO ALGÆ.
OLDEST of all the formations known to geologists, and representing perhaps the earliest rocks produced after our earth had ceased to be a molten mass, are the hard, crystalline, and much-contorted rocks named by the late Sir W. E. Logan Laurentian, and which are largely developed in the northern parts of North America and Europe, and in many other regions. So numerous and extensive, indeed, are the exposures of these rocks, that we have good reason to believe that they underlie all the other formations of our continents, and are even world-wide in their distribution. In the lower part of this great system of rocks which, in some places at least, is thirty thousand feet in thickness, we find no traces of the existence of any living thing on the earth. But, in the middle portion of the Laurentian, rocks are found which indicate that there were already land and water, and that the waters and possibly the land were already tenanted by living beings. The great beds of limestone which exist in this part of the system furnish one indication of this. In the later geological formations the limestones are mostly organic—that is, they consist of accumulated remains of shells, corals, and other hard parts of marine animals, which are composed of calcium carbonate, which the animals obtain directly from their food, and indirectly from the calcareous matter dissolved in the sea-water. In like manner great beds of iron-ore exist in the Laurentian ; but in later formations the determining cause of the accumulation of such beds is the partial deoxidation and solution of the peroxide of iron by the agency of organic matter. Besides this, certain forms known as Eozoon Canadense have been recognised in the Laurentian limestones, which indicate the presence at least of one of the lower types of marine animals. Where animal life is, we may fairly infer the existence of vegetable life as well, since the plant is the only producer of food for the animal. But we are not left merely to this inference. Great quantities of carbon or charcoal in the form of the substance known as graphite or plumbago exist in the Laurentian. Now, in more recent formations we have deposits of coal and bituminous matter, and we know that these have arisen from the accumulation and slow putrefaction of masses of vegetable matter. Further, in places where igneous action has affected the beds, we find that ordinary coal has been changed into anthracite and graphite, that bituminous shales have been converted into graphitic shales, and that cracks filled with soft bituminous matter have ultimately become changed into veins of graphite. When, therefore, we find in the Laurentian thick beds of graphite and beds of limestone charged with detached grains and crystals of this substance, and graphitic gneisses and schists and veins of graphite traversing the beds, we recognise the same phenomena that are apparent in later formations containing vegetable débris.
The carbon thus occurring in the Laurentian is not to be regarded as exceptional or rare, but is widely distributed and of large amount. In Canada more especially the deposits are very considerable.
The graphite of the Laurentian of Canada occurs both in beds and in veins, and in such a manner as to show that its origin and deposition are contemporaneous with
those of the containing rock. Sir William Logan states * that “the deposits of plumbago generally occur in the limestones or in their immediate vicinity, and granular varieties of the rock often contain large crystalline plates of plumbago. At other times this mineral is so finely disseminated as to give a bluish-grey colour to the limestone, and the distribution of bands thus coloured seems to mark the stratification of the rock." He further states : “The plumbago is not confined to the limestones ; large crystalline scales of it are occasionally disseminated in pyroxene rock, and sometimes in quartzite and in feldspathic rocks, or even in magnetic oxide of
In addition to these bedded forms, there are also true veins in which graphite occurs associated with calcite, quartz, orthoclase, or pyroxene, and either in disseminated scales, in detached masses, or in bands or layers “ separated from each other and from the wall-rock by feldspar, pyroxene, and quartz.” Dr. Hunt also mentions the occurrence of finely granular varieties, and of that peculiarly waved and corrugated variety simulating fossil wood, though really a mere form of laminated structure, which also occurs at Warrensburg, New York, and at the Marinski mine in Siberia. Many of the veins are not true fissures, but rather constitute a network of shrinkage cracks or segregation veins traversing in countless numbers the containing rock, and most irregular in their dimensions, so that they often resemble strings of nodular masses. It is most probable that the graphite of the veins was originally introduced as a liquid or plastic hydrocarbon ; but in whatever way introduced, the character of the veins indicates that in the case of the greater number of them the carbonaceous material must have been derived from the bedded rocks traversed by these veins, to which it bears the same relation with the veins of bitumen found in the bituminous shales of the Carboniferous and Silurian rocks. Nor can there be any doubt that the graphite found in the beds has been deposited along with the calcareous matter or muddy and sandy sediment of which these beds were originally composed. *
*“Geology of Canada,” 1863.
The quantity of graphite in the Lower Laurentian series is enormous. Some years ago, in the township of Buckingham, on the Ottawa River, I examined a band of limestone believed to be a continuation of that described by Sir W. E. Logan as the Green Lake limestone. It was estimated to amount, with some thin interstratified bands of gneiss, to a thickness of six hundred feet or more, and was found to be filled with disseminated crystals of graphite and veins of the mineral to such an extent as to constitute in some places one-fourth of the whole ; and, making every allowance for the poorer portions, this band cannot contain in all a less vertical thickness of pure graphite than from twenty to thirty feet. In the adjoining township of Lochaber Sir W. E. Logan notices a band from twenty-five to thirty feet thick, reticulated with graphite veins to such an extent as to be mined with profit for the mineral.
At another place in the same district a bed of graphite from ten to twelve feet thick, and yielding 20 per cent. of the pure material, is worked. As it appears in the excavation made by the quarrymen, it resembled a bed of coal; and a block from this bed, about four feet thick, was a prominent object in the Canadian department of the Colonial Exhibition of 1886. When it is considered that graphite occurs in similar abundance at several other horizons, in beds of limestone which have been ascertained by Sir W. E. Logan to have an aggregate thickness of thirty-five hundred feet, it is
Paper by the author on Laurentian Graphite, “ Journal of London Geological Society,” 1876.
scarcely an exaggeration to maintain that the quantity of carbon in the Laurentian is equal to that in similar areas of the Carboniferous system.
It is also to be observed that an immense area in Canada appears to be occupied by these graphitic and Eozoon limestones, and that rich graphitic deposits exist in the continuation of this system in the State of New York, while in rocks believed to be of this age near St. John, New Brunswick, there is a very thick bed of graphitic limestone, and associated with it three regular beds of graphite, having an aggregate thickness of about five feet. *
It may fairly be assumed that in the present world, and in those geological periods with whose organic remains we are more familiar than with those of the Laurentian, there is no other source of unoxidized carbon in rocks than that furnished by organic matter, and that this has obtained its carbon in all cases, in the first instance, from the deoxidation of carbonic acid by living plants. No other source of carbon can, I believe, be imagined in the Laurentian period. We may, however, suppose either that the graphitic matter of the Laurentian has been accumulated in beds like those of coal, or that it has consisted of diffused bituminous matter similar to that in more modern bituminous shales and bituminous and oil-bearing limestones. The beds of graphite near St. John, some of those in the gneiss at Ticonderoga in New York, and at Lochaber and Buckingham, and elsewhere in Canada, are so pure and regular that one might fairly compare them with the graphitic coal of Rhode Island. These instances, however, are exceptional, and the greater part of the disseminated and vein graphite might rather be likened in its mode of occurrence to the bituminous matter in bituminous shales and limestones.
* Matthew in “Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society," vol. xxi., p. 423. “Acadian Geology,” p. 662.