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Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods Paperback – May 1, 2001
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"The book [Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods] is a serious description, for the lay reader, of the several Bretz floods (Lake Missoula was repeatedly created by a glacier dam, which then released suddenly) . . . includes many photos and maps." --Book News, Inc.
About the Author
David Alt is a geology professor at the University of Montana in Missoula. Dedicated to bringing geology to the general public, he cofounded the popular Roadside Geology series. He has written a number of books in the series with coauthor Donald Hyndman, and helps edit others. Alt also teaches elderhostel courses, leads field trips, and presents public lectures about regional geology. He lives in Missoula.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story Professor Alt tells is an extraordinary one put together from many years of painstaking geological work. At the end of the last glaciation about 15,000 years ago, the ice dam that had created a gigantic lake in eastern Montana broke suddenly and catastrophically, releasing a wall of water hundreds of feet high that raced southwest through eastern Washington into the Snake River and thence, via the Columbia Gorge, to the ocean some 600 miles from Glacial Lake Missoula. Simultaneously, another wall of water from Glacial Lake Missoula, as it is now called, travelled west and poured into another glacial lake, Glacial Lake Columbia, which burst its ice dam and thundered southwards, also entering the Columbia River. At three points en route to the ocean (the Wallula Gap, the Columbia Gorge, and the Kalama Narrows), the on-rushing waters encountered choke points that restricted the flow and created huge temporary lakes. The glacial lakes emptied in about a week and the temporary lakes took perhaps a few weeks to empty. The force of water hundreds of feet deep and carrying ice blocks, large rocks, and trees while travelling at fifty miles an hour or more is hard to comprehend. It swept the land clear of topsoil, carved and widened channels and gorges, and plucked large boulders out of solid rock, carrying them for large distances. It created giant waterfalls with huge plunge pools, rapidly eroding the lip of the falls. Major features of eastern Washington, such as the Grand Coulees and the Scablands, were created by these ice age floods. Amazingly, the floods occurred not once but dozens of times over a period of 3,000 years or so. After each flood, the ice dams were rebuilt by tongues of ice spreading southwards from the northern ice sheets of British Columbia only to be broken again as the glacial lakes filled and lifted the dams off their bedrock.
Using the geological evidence, Professor Alt explains with great care and clarity the details of the various lakes and devastating flows. His explanations are greatly assisted by numerous excellent maps and photographs. Very helpfully, he includes maps of both the ice age features and of the same areas today, showing on the latter towns, roads and other key items. The writing is clear, impassioned, and interesting. Woven into the geological accounts is an account of how the scientific evidence unfolded involving, as it did, the opposition of many opinionated and powerful geologists who refused to accept the possibility of cataclysmic events such as these floods.
I can imagine two possible motivations for a general reader to purchase this book: The first motivation is a desire to learn more about an unusual and dramatic series of events that created the geography of a large area in the north western United States. The second motivation is to make a visit to eastern Washington, the Idaho panhandle, and southwestern Montana more meaningful. This book will more than satisfy both motivations.