Nottingham Serpentine Barrens

The 600+ acres of serpentine barrens at Nottingham has been established as a National Landmark to protect a rare and valuable site rich in geological, botanical and historical significance.  The birth of the serpentine barrens on the east coast of North America began about 500 million years ago as the tectonic plates caused folding and upheaval of the earth crust over several million years.  The barrens were created from ridges of deep magna rich in minerals forced to the surface above the vast sea that still covered much of the east coast.  Geological process slowly caused the rise of the land mass of the east coast above the ocean and transformed the ancient rock into the serpentine rock rich with minerals such as magnesium, chromium, iron and potassium.  Flip forward to the end of the last ice age 18,000 ago.  The dropping of sediment to cover the east coast did not reach far enough south to cover the barrens.  In between ice ages, the east coast was dryer and hotter with a vast grassland covering the area.  As the climate cooled, the grassland receded and the native vegetation we see today was established.  Except for the barrens, the thin, mineral laden soil could not support the ecosystem that surround it resulting in the savanna like grassland sparsely populated with pitch pine and other growth unique to the barren environment.  The barrens are maintained today by periodic burns to eliminate invasive, non-native species.  A practice, which has been done for over 10,000 years.  Native Americans set large fires in these areas to drive out wild life for hunting.  These fires were large enough, that early settlers arriving on colonial ships could see the smoke as they arrived on the east coast.

There is so much more about the role of the serpentine barrens in mining and manufacturing.  But, I will reserve that for another post.  If you have never been to a serpentine barren, it is worth a visit.  The barrens are a surreal and magical place like a strange island surrounded by familiar landscape.  Bleak and foreboding, eerily quiet, a trip to the barrens for me conjures up awe and emotions of being an unwelcomed visitor in a strange and hostile land.


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