Saturday, June 20, 2015

Geologic boosterism, New York

New York City's cosmopolitanism runs pretty deep, too, geologically speaking. We've been entertaining foreign visitors for better than half a billion years. Most notably the continent of Africa, which came over about three hundred million years ago, crashed into America, stuck around long enough to build the Alleghenies, and then headed back east. If you look at a geological map of New York, it looks a lot like a state map of ethnicity. The bedrock geology upstate is fairly white-bread uniform—big deposits of limestone from the time when New York was a shallow subtropical sea. But when you get down toward the lower Hudson and the Manhattan spur, the rock becomes incredibly heterogenous and folded and fragmented. You've got remnants of every kind of crap that's come crashing into the continent tectonically, plus other crap from various magmatic upwellings due to rifting, plus further crap that got pushed down by the glaciers. Downstate looks like a melting pot that needs a good stir. And why? Because New York truly always was very central. It sits at the far southeastern corner of the original North American shield, and at the very top of the Appalachian fold belt, and on the western margin of all the gnarly New England volcanic-island crappy-crap that got appended to the continent, and in a northwest corner of our ever-widening Atlantic Ocean. The fact that it's a conjunction of all these things helps explain why it ended up as the most open and inviting state in the whole seaboard, with its easy routes up to Canada and over to the Midwest. Because, literally, for hundreds of millions of years, New York is where the action's been.
Jonathan Franzen, "New York," in Matt Weiland & Sean Wilsey eds., State by State: A Panaramic Portrait of America (2008) (in a fictional dialogue that includes, here, the New York State Geologist)

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