in Missoula, Montana

Glacial Lake Missoula

Glacial Lake Missoula Shorelines

Glacial Lake Missoula was a large prehistoric lake in western Montana created by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet creeping south, blocking and damming the Clark Fork River near present day Lake Pend Orielle. Named for the city that bears physical evidence of the lake, you can look high on the mountain sides in Missoula and still see the ancient shore lines.

Believed to have filled and emptied repeatedly from 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, evidence of the Missoula floods that shaped much of Idaho, Washington and Oregon's landscapes are still visible today, from car-sized boulders swept many miles from their origin to the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington. Geologists have been fascinated with the possibility of Glacial Lake Missoula since 1910 when J.T. Pardee produced evidence of the glacial lake, sitting the shore line marks around Missoula, MT.

In 1923, J Harlen Bretz first recognized the signs of massive, catastrophic flooding in Washington but was unable to produce the source of water and was met with high opposition from a primarily Uniformitarianism society. Bretz spent his life working against geologists that believed the world was made by processes on a similar scale to those still observable today. The idea of a giant lake and subsequent floods was horrendous and met with much ridicule. Had Bretz and Pardee communicated more often they may have convinced the scientists of the day. However, it would take years of field work by many individuals to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

It wasn't until the 1940's, when extensive field work was brought forward, that most geologists would even consider Bret'z hypothesis about the floods as being conceivable, and many were still not fully convinced until aerial photos were available in the 1950's. However, complete acceptance by the geological society wasn't until the late 1970's when satellite photos were taken, providing undeniable evidence that Bretz and Pardee were, in fact, correct. Bretz was awarded the Penrose Medal in 1979 at the age of 96, geology's highest honor.

More Resources

Glacial Lake Missoula

J Harlen Bretz 1882-1981

Joseph Thomas Pardee 1871-1960

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