Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Bayside Glacier

While glaciers all over the world melt away, we have one here in Portland that is growing, thanks to the efforts of the Department of Public Works.

The DPW has been piling up the snow from the last two big storms in this empty lot in the Bayside neighborhood. In spite of recent warm weather, the glacier continues to grow as dumptrucks and bulldozers move snow from downtown streets and curbs to this designated snow storage site.

Like any glacier, this one scrapes away a great amount of detritus as it moves across the city. Any garbage and dirt that was on the street or nearby curbs gets buried in the snow and subsequently moved into the glacier. Then, as the top layers of the glacier melt, the revealed detritus leaves clues about the glacier's path and origins. In this photo, for example, a Big Mac wrapper suggests that this layer of snow might come from the vicinity of Valley Street, where downtown Portland's only McDonalds is located.

If this snow had fallen as rain, all of this debris would have instead washed into the city's sewers, and much of it would have overflowed into Casco Bay. In the glacier, however, it is collected and concentrated in one spot.

This characteristic also makes the glacier an attractive destination for the city's dominant bird species.

From Chestnut Street on the eastern side of the glacier, one can see more clearly the formative processes behind its growth. Here, dumptruck loads of snow (visible just to the right of the center in this photo) wait at the bottom of the glacier for the bulldozer to push them into the pile.

The glacier actually sits on a city-owned lot targeted for large-scale redevelopment, as indicated by the hopeful olde-timey streetlights here on Chestnut Street. The glacier, an agent of geological renewal, resides in a context of ongoing urban renewal. It remains to be seen where the glacier will move to in future winters, after office buildings and condos take its place on this empty lot.

More photos of the Bayside Glacier are available here.

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