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Cape Cod Cape Cod Land Recently Made

If you ever think of Cape Cod as an “old” place, because so much of our American history dates from its discovery by Gosnold and the settlement of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, spreading along the shores of the Cape, remember that, geologically speaking, Cape Cod is principally interesting because of its very extreme youth.

When the vast continental glaciers of the Pleistocene Ice Age pushed their enormous bulk constantly southward from their frigid points of origin, they forced forward with them a stupendous amount of material—sand, clay, pebbles, even great boulders. The glaciers were, in a sense, icy bulldozers, and they bulldozed all this earthy and stony material from a surface above what is now the bedrock of New England.

As the vast glacial masses moved southerly and the climate slowly changed and became more temperate, the ice reached the point where it melted, instead of moving onward as ice. As it softened and lost its grip on the material it was shoving ahead, the gravel, pebbles, and boulders were “dropped.” Immense piles of this displaced material were left. Nantucket and the Vineyard were thus formed. A later invasion, or re-invasion of the Cape, occurred when part of the ice-mass reached southward across what is now Massachusetts Bay until climatic changes stopped it.

Unlike the rest of Massachusets west of the coastal plain, Cape Cod and the islands have no high hills nor rocky out crops. Their height above sea level is practically nil.

The surface of the Cape is only lightly covered by humus, an the subsoil of the Cape is composed of glacial “till,” which is quickly eroded when exposed to wind and water. You can see this fact made evident in the cliff faces at Highland Light in Truro, Sankaty Head on Nantucket, Gay Head on the Vineyard, and many other points on the coast along here show the same effects. Wherever the sea washes the foot of such cliffs, the tidal currents have carried away the “detritus” or loosened fragments of rock, and thus formed barrier beaches and sand spits at many places. The process has also gradually filled up the deeper quiet areas nearby until they have become shallows with muddy bottoms, then stretches of level salt marsh, and at last, perhaps, dry land or even sand dunes of considerable height.

This is how the entire area that now forms Provincetown, including Pilgrim Lake, the Province Lands, Race Point, and Wood End, has been built by erosion and transportation of material from the deposits that formed the cliff at Highland Light in Truro and from other parts of the outer Cape. The same process also formed Monomoy, south of Chatham, Coatue Beach on Nantucket, and Chappaquiddick on the Vineyard.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 02/14/06
Categories: HistoryNature
Keywords: geology, nature, history


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