About Mannahatta and Terra Nova

Submitted by ub on Thu, 06/06/2013 - 18:03

Longtime City Island resident, Dr. Eric Sanderson, PhD offered a lecture on past present and future Manhattan at Bartow-Pell Mansion's Spring Luncheon this afternoon.

Sanderson referred as far back as 9/12/1609, when this area was known on a map as zone 221 - Central Appalachian Broad Leaf Forest, which was then considered grassland and sparsely inhabited by 1000 different plant species, along with Lenape Indians, who were also known as Delaware People.

In 2000 Dr. Eric W. Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society had an idea. As recently profiled in The New Yorker, Dr. Sanderson’s method of using a combination of historical maps, modern computational geography, and old-fashioned scientific sleuthing, to resurrect a lost chapter in the history of New York City: the ecology of Manhattan Island at the moment just before Henry Hudson in what someday would be New York, on September 12, 1609. What Hudson and crew found, no more, no less, was a long, wooded island, rich with wildlife, situated in a teeming tidal estuary, a robust wild place that would today be a national park were it not the site of the city at the center of the world.

Dr. Sanderson is a landscape scientist who works at the boundary of ecology and geography, with a background in literature and an interest in history.
His day job with the Wildlife Conservation Society focuses on planning conservation of wildlife lions, tigers, bears, jaguars, tapirs, peccaries, American crocodiles, North American bison and Mongolian gazelle in places like Argentina, Tanzania, Mongolia, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Adirondack Park.

He has also mapped the Human Footprint and Last of the Wild, the first ever visual representation of modern humanity’s impact on its only planet at less than one square mile resolution. His conservation efforts have been featured in National Geographic Magazine, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and City Island Images. Sanderson has edited two books and written numerous research papers.

He is probably best know though for Mannahatta and now Terra Nova, which was released this week, facilitates a kind of naturalist’s version of what was and what could be. Using a combination of historical maps and records, modern ecological theory, and the latest in computational geography, he is literally reconstructing the ecology of Mannahatta stream by stream and hill by hill and re-placing the American chestnuts, passenger pigeons, wolves and mountain lions back on the modern cityscape within a block of their former location.

Cutting edge visualization techniques allow Dr. Sanderson to place a camera in any window in Manhattan today and take the photograph of the same view on that fateful September afternoon, allowing New Yorkers and others to visualize how Manhattan has changed over the intervening years, and encouraging them to think about what the next four hundred years might bring.

New York is the archetypal city, so in some ways the nature that underlies it is also archetypal.” Images from his project can be viewed at: