Geology of New York City and Its Vicinity

What the Rocks Tell About New York in Ages Past

essential relief features

Diagrammatic relief map of New York City and adjoining areas

Rocks held firmly in the base of the ice served not only as abrasives but also as etching tools. Deep parallel grooves in crystalline rock appear at various places on Riverside Drive, particularly on the south side of the Drive where it 1eaves the Hudson River at about 200th Street. These glacial striæ running northwest-southeast give the direction of ice movement. Many diabase bowlders from the Palisades found in Yonkers and New York City indicate that the ice moved southeasterly, diagonally across the Palisades and the Hudson River, as shown on the diagram.

A stream leaving the front of the glacier oftentimes contained a large volume of water and had considerable transporting power. Hence pebbles, sand, and fine rock débris were carried in considerable quantity. In most instances the streams deployed fanwise almost immediately on their emergence from the glacial sheet and the material carried from the ice was dropped close to the margin of the glacier. The fans formed by single streams were usually small, being from half a mile to two miles in radius; confluent fans were larger, varying from one to six miles in radius. The materials are somewhat sorted and stratified and are called outwash deposits. These deposits occur at short intervals along the southern margin of the terminal moraine. Towns built on some of the larger outwash plains are Plainfield, New Jersey; Flatbush and Hempstead, Long Island.

While glacial streams were depositing fan-shaped outwash deposits in many places along the ice front, a glacial lake, Lake Passaic, appeared to the south of the terminal moraine between the crescentic outline of the Watchung Mountains on the east and south and the New Jersey highlands on the west. The waters of the lake drained through the Muggy Hollow outlet at the southwest corner into the Raritan River valley. When the ice front retreated northward, the lake waters followed it and occupied the entire basin behind the Watchung Mountains to the west and southwest of Paterson, New Jersey. The numerous freshwater marshes of today, along the upper course of the Passaic River, cover Portions of the bed of this former glacial lake.


Sketch map of New York City and vicinity, showing position of the terminal moraine and directions of the ice movement (indicated by the arrows) during the last or Wisconsin glaciation. After United States Geological Survey

Great accumulations of glacial till, a mechanical mixture consisting of unsorted clay, sand, pebbles, and small bowlders, are found generally in the wake of the glacier. In the New York City district it varies from a fraction of a foot to 500 feet in thickness. A good exposure of it resting on Serpentine rock may be seen at Castle Point, Hoboken, New Jersey (above). It oftentimes fills the pre-glacial stream valleys and frequently covers the leeward side of hills and the lower areas. Test holes in the Harlem River at High Bridge show that the channel has been filled up from 80 to 111 feet by glacial drift and river mud.

The glacial drifts and sediments in the Hudson River gorge at Storm King Mountain have been found by drilling operations to be between 768 and 995 feet thick, with an average of 800 feet. In the vicinity of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels at 32nd Street, New York City, the sediments are 300 feet thick, with a possible greater depth in an untested section in midstream. In the Lower Bay deposits accumulated to such an extent that the mouth of the river was almost closed to large ships. Some $4,000,000 have been spent by army engineers in dredging the Ambrose Channel 2000 feet wide by 40 feet deep, so that the large ocean liners and other vessels may enter the harbor. From a point ten miles out from Sandy Hook to the edge of the continental shelf about one hundred miles distant, a well-defined river channel exists which increases in depth seaward. Near the brink of the continental platform it is 4800 feet deep. Glacial deposits appear over a portion of the course.

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