Periodic jökulhlaups from Pleistocene glacial Lake Missoula—New evidence from varved sediment in northern Idaho and Washington
Newly examined exposures in northern Idaho and Washington show that catastrophic floods from glacial Lake Missoula during late Wisconsin time were repeated, brief jökulhlaups separated by decades of quiet glaciolacustrine and subaerial conditions. Glacial Priest Lake, dammed in the Priest River valley by a tongue of the Purcell trench lobe of the Cordilleran ice sheet, generally accumulated varved mud; the varved mud is sharply interrupted by 14 sand beds deposited by upvalley-running currents. The sand beds are texturally and structurally similar to slackwater sediment in valleys in southern Washington that were backflooded by outbursts from glacial Lake Missoula. Beds of varved mud also accumulated in glacial Lake Spokane (or Columbia?) in Latah Creek valley and elsewhere in northeastern Washington; the mud beds were disrupted, in places violently, during emplacement of each of 16 or more thick flood-gravel beds. This history corroborates evidence from southern Washington that only one graded bed is deposited per flood, refuting a conventional idea that many beds accumulated per flood. The total number of such floodlaid beds in stratigraphic succession near Spokane is at least 28. The mud beds between most of the floodlaid beds in these valleys each consist of between 20 and 55 silt-to-clay varves. Lacustrine environments in northern Idaho and Washington therefore persisted for two to six decades between regularly recurring, colossal floods from glacial Lake Missoula.