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However, the sea was never far away from the lower Cape following the retreat of the ice, because, as the ice retreated away from Cape Cod and into the Gulf of Maine, it was immediately replaced by sea water. Many of the plants and animals that live on Cape Cod today as well as extinct animals such as mastodon and mammoth survived the ice ages by occupying the emerged Continental Shelf south of the ice front as well as ice free regions throughout North America south of the glacial limit. This occurred because of deep basins in the Gulf of Maine, which are close to the lower Cape and because the weight of the glacial ice had depressed the crust in the Gulf of Maine to below the world wide low sea level.
This mastodon and calf are part of a life-size diorama at the New York State Museum in Albany. Thus, the lower Cape Cod has had a maritime environment since about 19,000 years ago. 19) and other extinct animals of the Pleistocene Epoch, and most, if not all, of the animals and plants that now live in northeastern North America, survived the Laurentide glaciation on the exposed continental shelf.
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During the Laurentide glaciation and for some time after the retreat of the ice away from Cape Cod, worldwide sea level was about 400 feet below its present level.
Much of the continental shelf to the south of Cape Cod (Fig.
18) was dry land, as was Georges Bank to the east and Stellwagen Bank to the north.
This transported material is redeposited along the shore to form new land.
The sand is transported and redeposited to form bay mouth bars, spits, and barrier islands across embayments in the coastline (Fig. At this time, the coastline may have resembled the present coastline from Eastham southward (Fig. These features were the forerunners of the present Provincetown spit and the barrier islands of Eastham, Orleans, and Chatham.
From 2,000 years ago, the rate of sea-level rise was about three feet per 1,000 year.In Cape Cod Bay, wave erosion of headlands and formation of the spits, including the spits called tombolos that connect the Wellfleet Harbor Islands (Fig.22)and protect the harbor from the open ocean, probably started somewhat later. Aerial view of Sandy Neck barrier beach and the Great Marshes at Barnstable.The barrier was built by wave-generated longshore drift, longshore currents carrying sand derived from the cliffed glacial deposits to the west, and onshore winds carrying sand inland to form the sand dunes about 4,000 years ago as the rising sea drowned the glacial cape (photo by Dann Blackwood). Air photo of parabolic (U-shaped) dunes on Provincetown Spit. Prevailing westerly winds have blown out the centers of the dunes so that they open to the west. 23)is thought to have formed around 4,000 years ago when relative sea level stood a little more than twenty feet below present.Many spits shelter a quiet body of water called a lagoon.
Both plants and animals migrated northward as the ice retreated and as the rising sea level inundated the continental shelf.