American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th St., New York City 10024-5192
212 769-5100; information for school and group visits 212 769-5200
Revealing its importance as one of life’s most basic and vital components, water continually appears throughout the Natural History Museum’s exploration of life on this planet. Students see water in all manifestations, from an impossibly small molecule to a raging river, and can trace the journey of this critical resource from the primal rainfall to the water which runs from our taps each day.
Although navigating this giant building can be tricky, the following exhibits pertaining to water are conveniently located. On the first floor the Hall of Planet Earth is directly across the lobby from the Hall of Biodiversity, which leads into the North American Forests exhibit and the Hall of New York State Environment. A staircase to the second floor opens on to the African Peoples exhibit, from which a central corridor leads to the Natural Science Center.
Hall of Planet Earth: In this exhibit students learn about the history and geologic mechanisms of planet earth, which includes numerous examples of the chemical importance of water in the earth’s formation and its ability to sustain life. Students learn how the first oceans were formed from water raining out of the earth’s atmosphere, how glaciers, oceans and rivers have transformed the earth’s surface over the years, how the earth’s climate changes are recorded in ice cores, and how life was first sustained deep in the earth’s oceans.
Hall of Biodiversity: In this dimly-lit and lush exhibit students learn how water pollution poses a significant threat to biodiversity, especially along coastal areas and within precious freshwater wetlands, rivers and lakes. A screen-display video at the far end of the room (“Setting a River Free”) discusses the opening of a dam along the Kennebec River in Maine, which allowed fish access to freshwater so that they could reproduce.
North American Forests: Here students can see the way in which rivers and their occasional flooding contribute to different types of forest growth. A diagram of what a water table might look like beneath a typical North American Forest demonstrates how varying depths of water beneath the surface affect the vegetation above ground.
The Hall of New York State Environment: This exhibit chronicles the development of New York State’s natural landscape over time, and includes the numerous ways in which water contributed to such change. A geologic cross-section of the Hudson River region reveals that the excavation for the Schoharie Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains exposed trunks of the extinct “early seed fern” (Eospermatopteris), a tree that grew to at least 40’ high. It also shows the effects of sediment from when this area was under seawater. There are also displays of the water cycle, photos of old water pumps and wells, and a pictorial explanation of how glaciation carved out the landscape we see today.
African Peoples: In this exhibit, students learn how water and its scarcity dramatically affect the lives of African Peoples not only geographically, but also politically and economically. Artifacts and model replicas teach students about riverine agriculture, irrigation, flooding, and various techniques used for drawing up underground water in the desert, such as Archimedes’ Screw. The small room entitled River Valley, explores the different civilizations which sprung up beyond Egypt and the Nile valley, along the life-giving Niger, Congo and Zambezi Rivers.
Natural Science Center: This small, interactive exhibit demonstrates to children the ways in which nature shapes the lives of even New York City inhabitants. Students can listen on earphones to the birds of Central Park, learn how New York City was once buried deep beneath a glacier, and see many live examples of some of the wildlife surrounding us, such as salamanders, turtles, and fish. An explanation of estuaries includes where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Hudson and East Rivers, a map and a glimpse of the water supply and sewage systems beneath our feet. Since this is a special exhibit, please call (212) 769-5304 for hours.