This report offers a general outline of the New York Bight area beaches. An understanding of the geologic history of the southern New England is essential to inferring the origin of materials found on modern beaches in the greater New York City area. In general, rocks of different geologic ages display unique characteristics representing the sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic conditions that existed at the time of their origin. The amazing thing about the beaches in New York is that, in a sense, all of that geologic history is hidden there on the beach!!! The figure below shows possible source areas of the sediments found on beaches around the New York Bight.
Many complex processes transport and break down both natural and anthropogenic sediments, and ocean beaches play a significant role in the long-term fate of these materials. For more detailed information about the geologic history of the region check out the bibliography of this report.

The coastal areas of the New York Bight are among of the most geologically active areas on earth. This might sound strange, but it is true (especially if you consider humans as geologic agents). Other critical factors affecting the dynamics of the area include the ongoing effects associated with the melting of the great ice sheets at the end of the last Pleistocene glacial advance (which ended as recently as about 10,000 years ago). The melting of ice has caused a great transgression of the sea. In addition, the removal of the weight of the ice (perhaps a mile or more in places) is causing the land to isostatically rise (in some areas more than others). This isostatic adjustment of the crust may be a trigger mechanism for many of the small earthquakes that have occurred in the region through time.

An enhanced portion of a Landsat image (below) includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The scene illustrates many features typical of the coastal region of the New York Bight region.

[This image was processed using ERDAS Imagine 8-1 at Hunter College's Spatial Analysis and Remote Sensing Laboratory.]

The image shows Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point (Queens, NY) on the lower right. The entrance to Jamaica Bay separated the eastern end of the Rockaway barrier island/spit from the urbanized southeastern portion of Long Island (mostly southeastern Brooklyn). The beaches of Coney Island (lower center) and Seagate (lower right) form a spit that projects eastward forming a protecting barrier to the lower Hudson River Harbor (lower right). The image has been enhanced to highlight certain features.

The geologic history of the area is perhaps best summarized by following an outlined description of the physiographic provinces of the New York Bight region. There is a reason for this: the rocks underlying each physiographic province share a generally "common" geologic history relating to both their origin and the geologic forces that have since moved or altered them. The physiographic provinces discussed here include:

The collection of web pages discusses the dynamic geologic processes that control the development of modern coastal landforms, and contains a collection of image libraries of area shore features and specimens of natural and anthropogenic materials from area beaches.

The final web page is an INFORMATION GUIDE to further reading and research on the greater New York Bight region.


Hey, all you beginners... Click on the "geologic history" in the beginning of this page. You'll get an overview of some of the basics of geology...

Return to the New York Bight Home Page

Writers and Webmeisters:

Phil Stoffer and Paula Messina

CUNY, Earth & Environmental Science, Ph.D. Program
Hunter College, Department of Geography
Brooklyn College, Department of Geology

In cooperation with
Gateway National Recreational Area
U.S. National Park Service

Copyright September, 1996 (All rights reserved; use as an educational resource encouraged.)>