National Geographic : 1990 Jun
A RAPIIi NA INAL GEOG AP M1 AGAZIEJN t9I0 Move a Lighthouse, Save a Landmark or several decades the National Park Service has been fighting a losing battle with the Atlantic Ocean for possession of the Cape Hat teras National Seashore and its candy striped landmark, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. In spite of efforts to replen ish and protect the shoreline, coastal erosion has eaten away at the beach. Today only 250 feet of sand separates the lighthouse from the ocean, and sea level is expected to rise. Now the Park Service has a plan to move the light house inland at least 500 feet-but not quite yet. The plan, which could cost five mil lion dollars, is based on a recommenda tion from the Na tional Academy of Sciences. A com DAVIDALAN HARVEY mittee from its Na tional Research Council concluded that all other solutions were, at best, short term. Reinforcing the lighthouse and moving it along steel rails to a new foundation should protect it for a hun dred years, at which time it could be moved again, the committee said. Many residents of the Outer Banks (GEOGRAPHIC, October 1987) are dubi ous about the risks involved. Hugh Morton, head of the Save Cape Hatter as Lighthouse Committee, which urges erosion control, says the Park Service may "wind up with a pile of bricks." Robert M. Baker, the Park Service's regional director, says movement will not begin until the threat of losing the lighthouse to the sea "clearly out weighs the risks of loss during a relocation effort." A Protected Status for Pygmy Pine Trees iny pine trees. A dozen species of moths. The broom crowberry. This exotic combination can be found in the Bass River State Forest in New Jersey's Pine Barrens (GEO GRAPHIC, January 1974) and helps ex plain why a 3,800-acre tract has been made part of the state's Natural Areas System. New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection now must make preservation of natural resources the key factor in deciding how the area is to be managed. The tract, known as the West Pine Plains, is part of the pygmy forest, a notable feature of the Pine Barrens. In the 12,000 to 13,000 acres of sandy soil grow the same species of pine and oak trees found elsewhere in the Pine Bar rens. But the plains trees, for reasons that defy definitive explanation, stand only three to ten feet high. "The ecosystem of the plains is glob ally rare," says Robert Cartica, super vising planner in the state's Office of Natural Lands Management. For ex ample, it contains a dozen moth species and a low-growing shrub called the broom crowberry, normally found far ther north in the state. The goal of the Natural Areas Sys tem is to preserve lands that support rare or endangered species, significant ecosystems, and wildlife habitats. The addition of the West Pine Plains brings the number of state natural areas to 42, totaling almost 30,000 acres. Changing Patterns at Chaco Canyon For centuries the passage of sunlight through a series of rock slabs in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon created an unusual effect on the longest day of the year: Rays of light formed a dagger shape that seemed to "pierce" the center of a spiral carved into the soft sandstone of Fajada Butte by the pre-Columbian Anasazi people (GEOGRAPHIC, November 1982). But MICHAELS. YAMASHITA nature-and probably humans-have had their impact: The "sun dagger" will be seen no longer. The spiral and the sunlight pattern were discovered in 1977 by Anna Sofaer, a Washington, D. C., artist. On the shortest day of the year, she found later, two vertical beams of light would bracket the spiral. The Anasazi, Sofaer believes, were demonstrating a sophisticated use of astronomy. Last June Sofaer and her colleagues found that the old pattern had changed: The sunlight created differ ent shapes because the center rock slab had shifted. The pattern was also altered during last December's winter solstice (below), Sofaer discovered. A National Park Service study said erosion had caused the slab to move. But, the study added, visitors may have speeded up the process. Access to the "quite fragile" site should be limited, even to researchers, "unless promise of new and valuable information can be demonstrated," the report urged. JIM RICHARDSON,WESTLIGHT Suggestions for GEOGRAPHICA may be submitted to Boris Weintraub, National Geographic Magazine, Box 37357, Washington, D. C . 20036, and should include the sender's address and tele phone number.