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Marshes tell story of medieval drought, little ice age, and European settlers near NYC

Aside from views of cattails and blackbirds, the marshes in the lower Hudson Valley near New York City offer an amazingly detailed history of the area's climate. Sediment layers from a tidal marsh in the Hudson River Estuary have preserved pollen from plants, seeds, and other materials. These past remnants allowed researchers from Columbia University, New York, N.Y. and NASA to see evidence of a 500 year drought from 800 A.D. to 1300 A.D., the passing of the Little Ice Age and the impacts of European settlers.

Plants provide an indicator of climate because the well-being of a species is controlled by the temperature and moisture of a region, and whether those conditions suit a type of plant. That's why if you draw latitudinal or horizontal lines around the world you'll find very similar species growing along those lines, like tropical plants around the equator, or tundra and northern or boreal forest species in a circumference south of the North Pole.

From the pollen record found in sediments in Piermont Marsh of the lower Hudson Valley, a Medieval Warm period was evident from 800 to 1300 A.D. Researchers know this from the striking increases in both charcoal, a sign of dry vegetation and fires, and pollen from pine and hickory trees. Prior to this warming spell, there were more oaks, which prefer a wetter climate.

The study which appeared in a recent issue of the journal Quaternary Research is important for showing how climate in this region has changed due to natural causes prior to human interventions in the area. Dee Pederson, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Palisades, N.Y., and Dorothy Peteet, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, New York, N. Y., and LDEO, wrote the study.

During this drought period, a core drilled into the marsh bed showed large influxes of inorganic soil particles, a sign of erosion. Plant roots hold soil in place, but with drought and pla
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Contact: Rob Gutro
Robert.J.Gutro.1@gsfc.nasa.gov
301-286-4044
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
18-May-2005


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