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Beneath Babbidge Library Lies
Rare Remnant of Pre-Glacial Era
January 24, 2000

Most of us have a soft spot. For chocolate, fiction, or the Huskies, perhaps.

This article on Babbidge Bog is the first in a monthly series, Earthly Matters, on the hidden landscape of the University.

Homer Babbidge Library, the now-gleaming symbol of UConn's resurrection from the nadir of the 1980s, also has a soft spot - of a different kind.

For beneath the library's shell of brick and glass, beneath its frame of steel and its concrete piers, are the soft muck and mush of an ancient bog that overlies the solid rock below.

My students called this hidden place "Babbidge Bog" - their name for an organic stratum beneath the north-central part of the building that was detected by the drilling crew and geo-technical consultants who worked on the building's re-design.

Extending from one side of the building's foundation to the other, and lying at a depth of 10-25 feet below grade, the peat consists of naturally compacted leaf mulch, humic colloids - fine black organic matter, pollen, flattened twigs, and black silty clay that is at least 39,700 years old, according to radiocarbon dating.

We know little more about UConn's most "protected" wetland, except that it is about a dozen feet thick, and lies sandwiched between a mantle of glacial hardpan near the surface and metamorphic bedrock at depth.

Babbidge Bog survives from a pre-glacial age, when Connecticut was lushly forested, watered by springs and streams, and populated by an animal fauna that did not include human beings.

Nearly all of that ancient, Eden-like world was erased 20-25,000 years ago by the wet scraping action of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which was born in the hinterlands of Quebec, crept across the Saint Lawrence River, and engulfed the highest summits of New England before transforming Storrs to the cleaner, sandier, more streamlined world gracing the campus today.

Babbidge Bog survived glacial erosion because the ice flowed sluggishly at high elevation, and because the bog lay immediately down-glacier from a resistant bedrock ledge near what is now the library's north entrance. As far as we know, everything else dating to that pre-glacial epoch has vanished.

Babbidge Bog is one of many hidden geological gems concealed beneath the University environment. Some are as hard as rock crystals, others as soft as this hidden wetland. All are interesting.

Robert Thorson