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Missoula Floods

THE WATERFALL              

The Missoula Floods

Flathead Lake, west of the Rockies near Glacier National Park,  is the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi.  It is over 28 miles long, up to 16 miles wide and 375 feet deep in some areas.  The lake has some 200 square miles of surface area.  

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But this is a tiny remnant of what was once an enormous ice lake formed between the mountains when an ice dam blocked the southern ends of the valley.  It was likely up to 20 miles wide and was thousands of feet thick. 

The Flathead Valley extends north all the way through British Columbia and into the southern Yukon with steep valley walls on both sides. Geologists call this the Rocky Mountain trench. The Flathead and Mission Valleys are its southernmost end in Montana.

Tens of thousands of years ago, glacial ice scoured out the  Flathead Valley from the face of the earth.  When the glacier finally left,  moraines and outwash were left behind.  As the last ice age ended, a huge collection of stagnant ice remained and glacial deposits filled the valley around it.  When the ice finally melted it left a depression that Flathead Lake filled.

When you stand on one of the mountains and overlook the Flathead Valley, it is very easy to picture what looks like an enormous bathtub filled.  It is very awe-inspiring.

The ice barrier holding all these back melted and broke down enough at Clark Fork Valley in Idaho that it caused ice and water to blast out with such ferocity that they scoured out the Columbia River Gorge up to 400 to 500 miles away.  These waters moved at 60 miles an hour.  The water crested at 200 feet deep in Bonneville Washington.  The scale of these events can be imagined, but to think of what the earth is capable is astounding. 

The largest floods to ever take place on Planet Earth happened through the Columbia Gorge.  This didn't just happen once.  There were probably 40 floods like this during the Pleistocene era - between 16,000 and 14,000 years ago.

The Columbia Gorge is up to 4000 feet deep as a result of these floods scouring a channel through the volcanic rock. 

At the time of Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail, the river was still ferocious, although there had been a natural dam created in 1700s called the Bridge of the Gods.  There were two paths at the end of the Oregon Trail.  One was over the land, where there was not sufficient water.  The other was down the river on a raft - which was terrifying - because there was no reasonable land route along the river. 

Today the river has been tamed by a series of man-made dams.  The wind-tunnel effect down the Gorge makes for some of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding in the world.  There is a concentration of waterfalls, particularly on the Oregon side of the river, a historic roadway, hiking trails, and many amazing views.

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Warming Alaska:  A University of Alaska, Fairbanks study says that the shrinking of water bodies in Alaska is making that state warmer and dryer. The study, which appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research, reports that the last 50 years shows a dramatic reduction in the size and number of more than 10,000 Alaskan ponds. All ponds in sub-Arctic Alaska showed a water table reduction of between 4 and 31 percent, with most of the change occurring since the 1970s. Ponds in the Arctic Coastal Plain showed negligible change.

Australia:  Alarming new figures from the state of Victoria's water authorities show the water shortfalls predicted early last year have grown significantly in recent months. The amount of water flowing from streams and rivers into reservoirs has dropped by up to 60 per cent compared with the 100-year average.

Australian farmers have been told to move to northern Australia, where most of the country's rain falls, in an effort to find a solution to the nation's drought concerns. Senator Bill Heffernan says farmers need to go where the water is. "There's no question - climate change is a reality. We've got to take our farm to where the water is," he said.

New Hampshire, US:  The number of oysters that can be harvested has fallen 93 percent since 1993, due primarily to two devastating diseases.The report also found that the number of harvestable clams was 31 percent below the state average of 8,500 bushels per year. However, toxic contaminants in shellfish have decreased 17 to 68 percent since 1990, depending on the species. Over the same period, concentrations of bacteria during stretches of dry weather have fallen 73 percent.

 


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