Glacial Lake Missoula and the Floods
As these Ice Age glaciers blocked the Columbia River, the Spokane River and the Clark Fork River in Montana, they formed Glacial Lake Columbia, Glacial Lake Spokane and Glacial Lake Missoula. On the hills around Missoula are numerous straight, horizontal ledges called "lap marks" that mark the shorelines as the level of the lake filled to different heights and drained. Glacial Lake Spokane and Glacial Lake Missoula are indicated on the map (left) in medium blue. Glacial Lake Missoula, the largest lake, covered some 3000 square miles and was about 2,000 feet deep. The lakes and rivers of today are shown in dark blue.
Glacial Lake Missoula may have looked something like this photo at right. The mountains would have been covered with deep snow and the lake would be rarely as calm as in this photo. The lake would have been the size of Lake Superior and have influenced its own local weather pattern.
Pressure created as the water backed up behind the ice dams would cause them to break and release hundreds of cubic miles of water to flood areas downstream. Jokulhlaups, as these floods are called, still occur in glaciated regions today although not on such a huge scale.
Floating icebergs more massive than these at left carried giant boulders on their backs until they ran aground and melted. The boulders would then become stranded far away from where they formed just as granite rocks from Montana were taken to the Willamette Valley in Oregon during the floods. Geological evidence indicates that 89 or more such floods happened over the years as the ice dam blocked the Clark Fork, broke and re-blocked the river's flow. There is more on the effects of these floods on the Coulees and Canyons page.
All external links open in a new tab.
Close the tab to return to Kid's Cosmos.
Here are some basic terms used in the tour. Find more geology terms in the Glossary.
- A mound of gravel and sand deposited by flowing water. Bretz and other geologists identified many large bars in the Channeled Scablands.
- Volcanic rock caused by partial melting of the Earth's crust.
- The deepest part of a river or bay.
- Channeled Scabland
- Area in Washington state where huge floods made channels in a large, deep basalt flow. Named by J Harlan Bretz during the 1920's in various publications. See also Channeled Scablands.
- Current Ripple
- Mark left on streambed from water current usually less than an inch high and a few inches between the tops (crests) of each ripple. The giant ripples from Lake Missoula floods are as much as 35 feet high and several hundred feet between. See also Ripple Mark.
- Lifting and removal of rock, dirt, sand and the like caused by wind, water, or glacial ice.
- Large rock or boulder carried by water or glaciers and left behind.
- A narrow, winding ridge made of gravel usually formed by streams flowing on a glacier or in a tunnel below the glacier or ice sheet.
Kids' Cosmos… Expanding Minds Beyond the Limits of the Universe
P.O. Box 14077, Spokane, WA 99206-4077
© 2011 Kid's Cosmos
This tour created with the support of: