The purpose of this book is to provide basic information about the natural history and geologic features of the landscape encompassing the greater New York City metropolitan area. No work of this nature can be considered comprehensive; rather it is intended as a "good starting place" and a supplement to the thousands of books, maps, journal articles, societal publications, and government reports representing the collective knowledge of the physical environment of the region.
The method we chose to organize this book requires some comments. In some aspects it resembles Christopher J. Schubert's 1967 publication entitled "The Geology of New York City and Environs," however, there are some notable differences. Research in the past three decades has resulted in a many revisions of our collective knowledge of Earth history and processes. We also had certain objectives to achieve in the writing of this book. First, we wanted the book to serve as a reference to "students, teachers, parents, or novices of all ages" interested in geology and physical geography of the New York City region. With general size and length limitation, certain decisions were made. Our philosophy was to maximize the number of illustrations. Attempts were made to reduce the volume of technical jargon where possible. Also, additional field locations were included at the expense of detail. Instead of road logs, generalized areal or individual feature descriptions are provided. As the location map shows, representative field localities were chosen from across the entire region. The numbers on this map correspond to localities in the text (these numbers correspond to localities listed in the Table of Contents or on the Locality Map). In addition, to simplify text referrals to illustrations and photographs, all figures are numbered in a single chronological order. All resources used for interpretations are listed in the selected references page.
The first chapter begins with a basic overview of the geography and geologic setting of the New York City Metropolitan Region, and continues with a review of basic principles essential to understanding Earth materials and processes through time. The remainder of the book is organized following a chronology of geologic time from oldest to youngest, respectively. This was a logical choice because the different physiographic provinces in the region generally preserve geologic characteristics that correspond to major geologic "events" which have occurred in Earth's history. Chapter 2 is about the Highlands Province which corresponds to a region underlain by the oldest rocks which collectively share a long and complex geologic history prior to about 400 million years ago. Chapter 3 is about the Sedimentary Appalachians, a vast region encompassing the Valley and Ridge Province and the upland plateaus far to the north and west of New York City. In general, this region shares geologic characteristics and features associated with the formation of the Appalachian Mountains during the Middle to Late Paleozoic as the continents of the globe gradually assembled to form a single great supercontinent named Pangaea (roughly between 400 and 250 million years ago). Chapter 4 focuses on Mesozoic geologic history and regional features that formed during and following the break-up of this great supercontinent (roughly 200 to 100 million years ago). This discussion includes the formation and features of the Newark and Connecticut River Basins, and aspects of the early stages of formation of the modern Atlantic Ocean. Chapter 5 focuses of the geologic history and sedimentary features of the Atlantic Coastal Plain as it has evolved over the last 100 million years. Chapter 6 focuses on the Quaternary Period, and concentrates on the events associated with the advance and retreat of continental glaciers during the relatively very recent Pleistocene Epoch (between 2.6 million and 10,000 years before present). This discussion also examines the past and ongoing changes as sea level steadily continues to rise as the final glaciers melted. Chapter 7 is an examination of coastal features and the development of the modern shoreline environments of the New York Bight (the mariner's term used to describe the coastal region around New York City). And finally, Chapter 8 is a brief discussion of the effects of our growing human population on the physical environment of the region.
Each chapter is arranged with a general overview of the geologic history and physical characteristic of the rocks and the landscape of each region. This is followed by a discussion of selected representative field investigation sites where rocks and features can be examined. However, this arrangement of the book is not without problems. This is because every location on the Earth's surface has collectively experienced the passage of geologic time. For instance, nearly every location in every chapter displays some evidence of the recent effects of continental glaciation. Although discussion of Pleistocene features is included in most location descriptions, the regional overview of Pleistocene history is not discussed until Chapter 6. This "cart before the horse" problem could not be avoided. Readers might benefit by first flipping through the text to examine illustrations.
The locations described herein were selected because of their accessibility and their geologic significance. Most are on scenic public lands or in parks where materials are protected. All locations require travel to examine. The maps included in the text are generalized, or lack the detail provided by road maps or published geologic maps of the region. Sites discussed in the text are shown as black triangles on each of the maps. The locality description are intended to be only brief introductions, but hopefully they provide enough to encourage planning for a day trip or a weekend outing. Much is left to the individual to plan: gathering maps and planning routes, arranging accommodations, etc. Most localities discussed in this book have been described in some form or another in the literature (many references are listed in the bibliography of this book). In addition, many sites have visitor centers where more detailed hiking maps and information are available. Mention of these facilities is included in the locality descriptions.
Anyone who has spent time studying the geology of the region could add many additional field localities to this work. Some important sites were intentionally not included, partly out of respect for land managers, property owners, and researchers investigating sensitive sites. For one reason, collecting localities (especially for fossils) tend to be short-lived. Enthusiasm about collecting frequently exhausts supply, or construction, overgrowth or property management policies eventually diminishes access to collecting or study. Fortunately, new sites are always being discovered. In general, the best tool for collecting is a camera.
Without going back to school, the easiest way to learn about locations is to become involved with local geology, paleontology, and mineral clubs, conferences, societies, and museum groups. Many groups provide transportation for field trips, mitigate collecting arrangements, and carry insurance to protect property and group members alike. Many groups and government agencies publish maps, proceedings, and field guides that go well beyond the detail presented here. Field work and travel always has risks: sunburn, mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy, inclement weather, and traffic are perhaps the most frequently encountered problems, most of which can be avoided with a little planning and common sense. Always obey authorities and land ownership rules; land use policies change through time, and calling ahead is always good advice.
This work is the culmination of perhaps a thousand walks along area beaches, countless day trips throughout the region to examine rocks and fossil localities on college field trips, hiking excursions with friends, and collecting trips with local special interest groups. Many people have helped to make this work possible. Special gratitude is extended to professors John A. Chamberlain, Jr. of Brooklyn College, Victor Goldsmith of Hunter College, Fred Shaw of Lehman College, and many other faculty and students of the Earth & Environmental Sciences Ph.D. Program of the City University of New York. Special thanks are extended to Chuck Hutchinson (Geobooks, Inc.) for providing encouragement, incentives, and an editorial review of an early edition of this manuscript. Special thanks are extended to our field partners and fellow graduate students, Roland Scal, Martin Becker, Karen Mulcahy, and Jim Brown, and especially to two Brooklyn high school Earth Science teachers, Paul Speranza and Robert Palestino, for their enthusiastic support! Gratitude is also extended to the rangers and resource managers of the National Park Service, Gateway National Recreation Area, to Don Phillips and also many members of the New York Paleontological Society. Special gratitude is extended to our friend and architect, Gary Horowitz, for his amazing knowledge of the City! Last, but most special, extreme gratitude is extended to Paula Messina for editing, revising, and being there throughout this project.
This website is dedicated to the Earth Science teachers of the New York City region: past, present, and future.
Most sincerely, Phil Stoffer