Great paper on New York’s environmental, watery, marshy past/future

Great paper on New York’s environmental, watery, marshy past/future

Tides play a great role in this story

The Aquapelago and the Estuarine City: Reflections on Manhattan

This is a great paper on the watery / estuarine pasts (and futures) of Manhatten

Thanks to Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé for the link

By Philip Hayward; School of Communication, University of Technology, Sydney and Division of Research, Southern Cross University, Lismore

It contains these great descriptions of the pre-development landscape and the dynamics of an estuary – Hayward is quoting Sanderson (2009)

If Mannahatta existed today as it did then, it would be a national park – it would be the crowning glory of American national parks. […] Mannahatta had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more native plant species per acre than Yosemite, and more birds than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mannahatta housed wolves, black bears, mountain lions, beavers, mink, and river otters; whales, porpoises, seals, and the occasional sea turtle visited its harbor. Millions of birds of more than a hundred and fifty different species flew over the island annually on transcontinental migratory pathways; millions of fish – shad, herring, trout, sturgeon and eel – swam past the island up the Hudson River and in its streams during annual rites of spring. […] Oysters, clams and mussels in the billions filtered the local water; the river and sea exchanged their tonics in tidal runs and freshets fueled by a generous climate; and the entire scheme was powered by the moon and the sun, in ecosystems that reused and retained, water, soil, and energy, in cycles established over millions of years.

History, geography, and climate all set Mannahatta up to be a biological success, but what makes Mannahatta wealthy beyond imagination is its crowning position atop an estuary… By definition, estuaries are the places where the land and sea come together, and the result is like currency, both productive and variable. Freshwater rivers, like the Hudson and the numerous streams that are her sources and tributaries, discharge nutrients to fertilize the water, and cut the saltwater with fresh flow. As the seasons turn, the amount of freshwater swells and diminishes, and as the days and nights pass, the tide rises and falls. The competing traffic of freshwater and seawater and the washing of water over land creates a small sea in the glacially evacuated harbor, with layers of warm ocean water lying on top of the cold, fresh stuff. Sea-grass beds take root where the water is shallow enough for light to reach the bottom, beaches and dunes form along the windward shore, and salt marshes thrive in protected corners. The estuary is the motor, the connector, the driver, the great winding way, the central place that gathers all the old neighborhoods together and makes the rest possible (Sanderson, 2009: 143).

Sanderson, E.W. (2009) Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. New York: Abrams.

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