Rise and Shine, Nyköping

After an exciting sail in the dark, we had arrived happily in Nyköping. And just in the nick of time, as it turned out! At least if looking at it from a slightly broader and more planetary point of view.

So what’s that all about?

A Long Time Ago

Roughly one hundred thousand years ago, and after a period of comfortable Eemian climate (no humans there to enjoy it, though, since we had only reached Asia at that time), future Nyköping was experiencing our most recent glacial period. In other words, it was covered by up to three-kilometer thick ice!

Peak glacier time. Nyköping-to-be is marked with a red dot.
(Ulamm, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Then, about fifteen thousand years ago, all of this ice started to melt. And at about 12.5 ka BP (kiloannus before present) the meltwater started to form one of the predecessors to our beloved Baltic Sea, a freshwater lake called the Baltic Ice Lake.

For dear Nyköping, things were looking better, but not that much better. Instead of being crushed by kilometers of ice, it was now being covered by tonnes of freezing water.

A palaeogeographic map showing the extent of the Baltic Ice Lake just prior to the final drainage at 11,700 cal BP (Andrén et al., 2011). Picture from Springer Nature. 

Throughout the next thousands of years, the ice continued to recede.

The Baltic Ice Lake found a connection to the Atlantic and turned from fresh to brackish (slightly saline). Then, it cycled through a whole bunch of cool names— the Yoldia Sea, the Ancylus Lake, the Mastogloia Sea— before taking a shape resembling the one it has today as the Littorina Sea.

The Littorina Sea extending over the outlines of the present-day Nordic and Baltic countries

Future Nyköping was still submerged under tens of meters of water, though. Well, mostly so. Some of the highest peaks were in fact starting to rise up from the ancient sea to form the first features of a new archipelago.

Interestingly, there were humans there as well, pushing north together with the retreating ice. And all kinds of other animals as well. According to the history books, these humans were hunting deer and elk for food, and fishing. I’m sure, however, that they had other and more adventurous things on their minds as well.

What they probably didn’t know, was that while they were advancing slowly forward, to the north with the ice, they were also advancing upwards, away from Earth’s center and towards the stars and the galaxies, far, far away.

Uplifting News

What would have seemed like bleak beginnings for the aspiring Nyköpingites— the kilometers of ice followed by submarine life in an icy lake with prehistoric fish— was all slowly changing due to a physical phenomenon called tectonic uplift.

The (even on a planetary scale) extremely heavy ice had forced the actual tectonic plates downwards. Now, with the ice no longer there, the plates were slowly returning to their pre-depressed stage. Basically, this return to equilibrium was lifting the land up from the water, and exposing larger and larger dry areas while doing so.

Not terribly fast, obviously, as the movement could be measured only in millimeters per year. But very inevitably. And as it kept at it for thousands and thousands of years, the millimeters turned into meters and the meters into tens of meters.

During the last four thousand years, the not-yet-Nyköping rose from about twenty-five meters below the surface to where it is today.

And it is still rising due to this very same tectonic uplift.

Not as fast as back in the days, though. Future estimates range from tens of centimeters to more than a meter per one hundred years. The effect of global warming and rising sea levels is a big uncertainty factor in these estimates, however, so it might be less.

Current Fennoscandian land uplift (mm/yr) relative to the center of the Earth. Picture: Finnish NLS/Markku Poutanen.

Back to the Present

The long narrow (nightly) approach to the city had been so intriguing, that the day after I felt compelled to learn a bit more about its history.

“Oh yes, it’s really shallow right outside the fairway!” the harbor captain told me. “I even ran aground there with a dinghy once, right next to where the cows are feeding,” she continued.

We hadn’t seen the cows in the dark, but it was funny to hear that we had been sailing just past them. (They were likely sleeping.) What wasn’t very relieving, though, was to realize that right outside the four-meter deep dredged channel, there were indeed thick mud walls reaching almost up to the surface.

The Nyköping channel with cows guarding the entrance. Image from Navionics.

Until the late 19th century, Nyköping was an important commercial harbor, but they had one big problem: The land was rising and the waterway entrance to the city was getting too shallow! (Sorry, Nyköpingites, after having risen out of the seas, someone forgot to hit the stop button.)

The fairway into Nyköping had been dredged already in the 18th century, but it was not as deep as today, and not as wide either.

So, in 1877, when a new railway to nearby and better-situated Oxelösund was finished, most of the commercial shipping operations migrated there. Oxelösund was easier to reach from the open sea, and so also less affected by the land rise.

The Nyköpingites didn’t just throw in the towel, though. In 1948 they dredged some more to make the channel both wider (thirty meters) and deeper (six meters). It helped, for a while, but ultimately, they were fighting a losing battle. For the bigger ships, at least.

When we sailed in, the fairway wasn’t six meters deep anymore, it was just four. A part of this is certainly due to the land rising, maybe thirty-forty centimeters from 1948. Likely, someone somewhere also decided that the fairway shouldn’t be dredged to six meters anymore, just to four.

Concluding this historical journey, I think it is fascinating how quickly our small home planet changes. Due to naturally occurring events as well as human intervention. The somewhat chaotic nature of this evolving system is equally fascinating, and also a bit frightening.

Recorded depth data from our trip.

Instagrams from Nyköping

In the Year 2021.

We arrived in Nyköping in the night, and the morning after the children were already happily getting to know their new surroundings.

There was a big playing field right next to the marina, which they all loved. Their favorite attraction was a big wooden pirate ship where they spent a lot of time all playing together. Right up until they got into a heated argument about “who should be captain?“, resulting in irreconcilable differences.

We’re out of here,” said M and Little L, grabbed a plastic football, and went to shoot some hoops.

Nyköping was a beautiful town — almost surprisingly beautiful. There was a lot of the 18th and 19th centuries left in the city center, and they had a castle!

One of the few castles we didn’t actually visit, but we walked by it many a time and admired the beautiful composition it took part in, with lush trees, colorful flowers, and the low-rumbling river flowing by.

The river.

Looking at the river in broad daylight, it was easy to understand that it had caused a bit of unforeseen current during our nightly arrival.

It was really quite awesome to watch it. “It’s raining, it’s raining!” the children were shouting while dancing happily around in it.

French fries for most of the children and something more elaborate for Charlotte and M. The restaurants next to the marina were simple and functional, and they served quite tasty food. (The one we frequented had an authentic Thai cuisine chef, and we didn’t complain!)

For dessert, ice cream, and — for the first time ever! — Jafaris (Jafari’s) Donuts & Churros. Cheers for those as well.

“Do I like this?” O is thinking to himself. He actually did, he later confirmed.

In the Glimpse of an Eye

We stayed in Nyköping for three whole days (and a couple of half-nights) before sailing onward. For us as a sailing family spending our few weeks of summer vacation, a relatively long time. From a planetary perspective, not so much.

It’s interesting, sometimes, to take a moment and see the film reel flashing before the eyes while moving faster and faster backward into the past.

Seeing the smoking chimneys of industrialization being reverse-engineered and deconstructed, seeing the castle disappear bit by bit, the farms, the fields. Finally, seeing this Nyköping-Atlantis sinking into the Baltic, and being covered with a thickening layer of ice.

Who knew?

Who knew back then, that one hundred thousand years later, on a flat place quite close to the re-emerged water, one particular human being would be about to burst forth into a brilliant exhibition of modern and magical artistic movement, the like of which had never been seen before.

“FILM IT! I’M SKATEBOARDING WITHOUT A SKATEBOARD!” this human would shout, before sending it.

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