Tuesday, August 05, 2014

High Seas And The Vanishing Coastal Communities

They watched the sea rise and cover their wooden pier. They were helpless as the salt water over-ran the coastline and crept inland, to wash out the freshwater bog. Their forests died and their land disappeared under the sea.

They were Bronze Age Irishmen and it was three thousand years before the common era. Or before Christ, if you're keeping track in the old-fashioned way.
The lake became a bay

Recent storms along Galway Bay uncovered a few interesting artifacts that had not previously been spotted. A local resident found bits of oak  and passed it along to Professor Mike Williams of NUI Galway. The geologist had been studying the area and had already discovered evidence of forests that were now under Galway Bay, which meant that Galway Bay was once not there at all. Being a geologist, he was keen to determine just how old Galway Bay might be, what with the clues of recent creation turning up. Publish or perish, as they say, and the professor was off to gather artifacts and evidence of his hypothesis so that he could write it down and share it with fellow geologists.

Near where the local man found the piece of ancient oak, the professor found the preserved remnants of a wooden walkway, unseen and forgotten for centuries. But what does it mean, that ancient people built a wooden walkway and today it's under water?

It means that the sea level rose, and it wasn't all that long ago in geological time. Scientists are suggesting that Galway Bay wasn't Galway Bay until some time around 3700 B.C. Before that? It was a lough. And that's why local Galwegians have been know to refer to Galway Bay as Lough Lurgan. Because the memory of the lough is still around, even if the lough isn't.

Sea levels rising? Isn't that something we are supposed to fear in this modern time of man-made global climate change?

You're imagining some Neolithic Al Gore right about now, aren't you, running around Spiddal and Galway town, giving speeches to the assembled masses and warning them to stop burning fossil fuels because they're making the earth too hot and the ice is melting. We know now that it was just the ending of the last Ice Age, when the ice did indeed melt, and not because of human activity but as part of a poorly understood natural cycle.

Friends in Chicago can live there now because the ice had the decency to melt all those thousands of years ago and leave behind a very large lake filled with fresh water. For those surrounding what was once Lough Lurgan in Ireland, the melting ice had the opposite effect. What was once fresh water became contaminated with sea water and there went the neighborhood.

The residents of Galway adapted as best they could when it was obvious that the sea was rising and wasn't retreating. They built their walkway and when the sea kept coming up anyway, they moved inland.

All that without an influx of cash from some Bronze Age United Nations, demanding payments from the more well-heeled nations who stood accused of causing the melting ice problem.

However did they manage back then?

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