Twenty years after the collapse of Old Man on the Mountain, audiences around the world will now be able to explore New Hampshire’s token through Online interactive 3D model Created by Matthew Maclay, a graduate student in geosciences at the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies at Dartmouth.
The face-shaped granite formation on the northeast side of Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch State Park fell from the cliff on May 3, 2003, drawing international attention and dismay in New Hampshire itself.
“People continue to be very emotionally attached to the Old Man of the Mountain – the state motto of New Hampshire, so I am really excited that this 3D model will provide the public with an opportunity to learn more about this natural wonder and the atmospheric processes that affect the underlying geological structure of the area,” he says. Maclay.
as part of Research projectMaclay and collaborators Jesse Cassana and Carolyn Verwerda at the Spatial Archeology Laboratory in Dartmouth conducted aerial surveys of Cannon Cliff using a drone. They then reconstructed the now-lost profile using original film negatives taken between 1958 and 1976 that documented the old man on the mountain and surrounding area during maintenance carried out by the profile presenters.
Maclay processed the images at the Planetary Surface Processes Computing Laboratory led by Marissa Palousis, associate professor of Earth sciences at Dartmouth. By applying photogrammetry, a technique similar to the way the eyes provide depth perception, Maclay was able to create a 3D model of Cannon Cliff with and without the Old Man in the Mountain.
says collaborator Jesse Cassana, professor of anthropology and director of the Institute for Spatial Archeology Laboratory at Dartmouth. “I am really happy to be a part of this project to help digitally bring the old man back to life.”
With the state-of-the-art 3D model, viewers can zoom around Cannon Cliff, which is about a mile wide and 1,000 feet long, and see where the old man was.
“Cannon Cliff is one of the largest cliffs in the eastern United States and it looms over a huge pile of rock debris ranging in size from sand to boulders larger than cars,” says McClay. “It’s a massive slope of loose rock, which serves as evidence for the efficient underlying rock weathering and rockfall that has been occurring since the last ice sheet retreated, about 12,000 years ago.”
In his research, Maclay studies how climate-based processes physically and chemically break bedrock into place, which in turn loosens and frees the bedrock for precipitation.
“Understanding which areas of Cannon Cliff may be particularly susceptible to rockfalls is important given the area’s popularity as a year-round climbing and tourist destination,” he says.
“Rock weathering processes are also important because they break down rocks on a slope into sediments, which is how soils are formed,” Maclay says.
Previous research has found that the cold, harsh winters and warm, wet summers in the White Mountains create conditions for efficient soil production, which may be affected by the warming climate.
As part of the ongoing project, the researchers installed 24 sensors that record the temperature of the bedrock on Cannon Cliff. They will also conduct laboratory analyzes of rock samples from the area to examine chemical changes in minerals caused by gentle acid rain and snowmelt.
With this model, Maclay was able to estimate the volume and mass of rocks lost when Old Man of the Mountain fell, which could not yet be calculated. According to his measurements, about 750 cubic meters of granite fell, so he said it would be very heavy.
“The old man in the mountain probably weighed 2,000 tons when he collapsed,” Maclay says. “While 3-inch turnbuckles were installed in the old man to try and keep him from falling over, the actual strength of the granite had deteriorated over centuries and this is likely why it collapsed.”
He says that the same forces that shaped Old Man of the Mountain are still active on Cannon Cliff today.
“The old man’s face is no longer sitting on that outcrop, but it wasn’t the first rockfall and it wasn’t the last. There are still rockfalls that happen at Cannon Cliff, as it’s one of the most dynamic places in the White Mountains.”
The appearance of the 3D model coincides with a virtual event on Wednesday, May 3 at 11 a.m. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the crash. The online event will feature a historical perspective from the White Mountains Museum in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on how the Old Man shaped New Hampshire identity from his first recorded discovery in the early 1800s to today.
It will also include an introduction to ongoing geological research on Old Man and Cliff’s Canon by Maclay and a variety of personal stories and poems from local public school students in Franconia, New Hampshire and Lincoln, New Hampshire.
The event will also include the launch of a new song, Great stone faceWritten by New Hampshire songwriter Rick Lang.
says Brian K. Fowler, president of the Old Man’s Trust of the Mountain Heritage Trust, a longtime scholar at White’s Engineering and Mountain Geologist, who conducted the geological survey in 1976 before the construction of Highway 93 through Franconia Notch.
“For years, Brian Fowler studied Cannon Cliff to understand the geology and stability of Old Man Mountain, and long before that, there were efforts to preserve the delicate formation,” Maclay says. “One of the most rewarding aspects of this project is collaborating with Brian and meeting a lot of people who are interested in dredging.”
“I hope our research gets people excited about visiting Franconia Notch State Park, where they can glimpse stunning Cannon Cliff from some of the many nearby hiking trails and see ‘geology in action,’ as we like to call it,” Maclay says.
For more details on the virtual event and other events related to the anniversary, visit: oldmannh.org. (Registration required for the online event on May 3).
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