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Building the Adirondacks, one theory at a time

The surface of the Earth exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.- Will Durant

One million years ago-before there was an Adirondack Park with seasonal tourist attractions, environmental regulations, beaver ponds, and imaginary Blue Lines-there was a vast untamed wilderness of mountain rock and ice. It is doubtful that there were many trees or even much wildlife in the arctic-like terrain.

But go back 10-15 million years, or even more, and the Adirondack Mountains we know today may have been barely noticeable, at least according to a fascinating theory championed by a maverick New York geologist who died in 2001.

At that remote moment in time, the geologist claimed, the climate was warmer and the Adirondacks were literally new-born mountains-the result of a "domical uplift" that continues to the present day.

During the Miocene Epoch, the theory states, deep below the future State of New York, a molten hot spot-caused by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium-began heating subsurface rocks causing them to expand and rise through the rock layers above it.

For more than 30 years, the late Dr. Yngvar Isachsen, a Cornell University trained geologist, challenged long-held beliefs about the age and origin of the Adirondacks. But some of Isachsen's conclusions have been, in turn, challenged by new data collected by the New York State Geological Survey and other sources.

Dr. William M. Kelly, chief geologist of New York State, said there's more research needed to fully understand the origin and age of the Adirondacks.

According to Kelly, his late colleague, Dr. Isachsen, studied the upstate mountain range in depth and corrected many long held myths about the Empire State's big peaks. However, he's not sure the mountains are rising as rapidly as Isachsen claimed. Instead, he blames instrument data and inaccurate, older data on any confusion.

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