Cataclysmic Late pleistocene flooding from glacial Lake Missoula: A review

Victor R. Baker, Russell C. Bunker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

166 Scopus citations

Abstract

Late Wisconsin floods from glacial Lake Missoula occurred between approximately 16 and 12 ka BP. Many floods occurred; some were demonstrably cataclysmic. Early studies of Missoula flooding centered on the anomalous physiography of the Channeled Scabland, which J. Harlen Bretz hypothesized in 1923 to have developed during a debacle that he named 'The Spokane Flood'. Among the ironies in the controversy over this hypothesis was a mistaken view of uniformitarianism held by Bretz's adversaries. After resolution of the scabland's origin by cataclysmic outburst flooding from glacial Lake Missoula, research since 1960 emphasized details of flood magnitudes, frequency, routing and number. Studies of flood hydraulics and other physical parameters need to utilize modern computerized procedures for flow modeling, lake-burst simulation, and sediment-transport analysis. Preliminary simulation models indicate the probability of multiple Late Wisconsin jökulhlaups from Lake Missoula, although these models predict a wide range of flood magnitudes. Major advances have been made in the study of low-energy, rhythmically bedded sediments that accumulated in flood slack-water areas. The 'forty floods' hypothesis postulates that each rhythmite represents the deposition in such slack-water areas of separate, distinct cataclysmic floods that can be traced from Lake Missoula to the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. However, the hypothesis has numerous unsubstantiated implications concerning flood magnitudes, sources, routing and sedimentation dynamics. There were multiple great Late Wisconsin floods in the Columbia River system of the northwestern United States. Studies of high-energy, high altitude flood deposits are necessary to evaluate the magnitudes of these floods. Improved geochronologic studies throughout the immense region impacted by the flooding will be required to properly evaluate flood frequency. The cataclysmic flood concept championed by J. Harlen Bretz continues to stimulate exciting and controversial research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-41
Number of pages41
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology

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