Israel C. (Israel Cook) Russell.

Lakes of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology online

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Online LibraryIsrael C. (Israel Cook) RussellLakes of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology → online text (page 1 of 14)
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Copyright, 1885,




CI NX .V CnMI'ANy • PKm.



C^6 |0,

Ann ARnoR. Muhioan,
April 12, 18114.



My Dear Sir : —

It is now fourteen years since you first guided my footsteps to the beaches of Lake Bonne-
ville and pointed out the striking contrasts in the sculpturing of the mountains above and below
the horizon to which that ancient sea flooded the now desert valleys of Utah. For several years
after the survey of Utah's former lake was comijleted, you directed my studies of the basins of
similar lakes in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington ; and through your advice and
suggestions I was enabled to see many things that otherwise might have escaped notice.

While writing this little book, which so inadequately describes some of the most interesting
events in the later geological history of North America, I have made more use than I could well
acknowledge of your volume on Lake Bonneville and of your more general discussion of the
Topography of Lake Shores — books that are numbered among the classics of American geology.

As a partial acknowledgment of this accumulated indebtedness, I beg to be allowed to
dedicate this book to you. ^

I remain, very respectfully,



A LARGE portion of the facts pertaining to the lakes of North America,
presented in this book, were gleaned by the writer during thirteen years'
geological work for the National Government, and are recorded principal-
ly in the publications of the U. S. Geological Survey. The facilities for
exploration afforded by my connection Avith Government surveys enabled
me to visit various parts of the United States, inclusive of Alaska, and to
observe many phases in the topographical development of our continent.

The publications of the U. S. Geological Survey, and of several State

surveys, also contain the records of observations by others, relating to

the subject here treated, which have been freely used. It is hoped that

this popular presentation of a small part of the results of the various

^ surveys referred to will serve to direct attention to the rich and varied

f^ store of information contained in the reports of my colleagues and fellow-

tj workers.

Besides the publications of official surveys, many papers relating to
the subject here discussed have appeared in journals, proceedings of
scientific societies, etc., to which references may be found in footnotes in
this volume.

The origin of lake basins and the history of the great cycles in the

development of the relief of the land to which they pertain, have been

discussed especially by Professor W. M. Davis, of Harvard University.

Professor Davis has also read the manuscript of this book and kindly

given me the benefit of his criticisms and suggestions.

I. C. R.


Lakes have their birth and death in the topographic development of
the land. A certain class form a characteristic feature of lands recently
elevated above the sea ; others belong with the earlier stages or youth of
streams ; while still others appear during maturity or in the old age
of the rivers to which they owe their origin. Lakes of a different type
are associated with modifications of topography due to glacial and to
volcanic agencies, and to movements of elevation and depression in the
earth's crust.

Lakes, like mountains and rivers, have life histories which exhibit
varying stages from youth through maturity to old age. The span of
their existence varies as do the lives of animals and plants. In arid
regions they are frequently born of a single shower and disappear as
quickly when the skies are again bright; their brief existence may be
said to resemble the lives of the Ephemera. Again, the conditions are
such that lakes perhaps hundreds of square miles in area, are formed each
winter and evaporate to dryness during the succeeding sunnner; these
may be compared Avith the annual plants, so regular are their }ieriods.
Still others exist for a term of years and only disappear during seasons of
exceptional aridity; but the greater number of iidaiid water bodies
resemble the Sequoia, and endure for centuries with but little apparent
change. So long- are the lives of many individuals that human history
has recorded only slight changes in their outlines, but to the geologist
even these are seen to be of recent origin and the day of their extinetiou
not remote.

The tracing of the life histories of lakes and the recognition of the
numerous agencies that vary their lives and lead to their death, gives to
this branch of physiography one of its principal charms.

Viii INTi;(JDUCT10N.

Lakes are also expressive of climatic conditions. In humid regions
they usiiall}' overflow, are fresh, and vary but slightly in area or in depth,
from season to season, and from century to century. In arid lands they
are frequently without outlets and consequently alkaline and saline, and
fluctuate in sympathy with even the minor changes in their climatic

The history of a lake begins with the origin of its basin and considers
among other subjects the movements of its waters, the changes it pro-
duces in the topography of its shores, its relations to climate, its
geological functions, its connection with plant and animal life, etc. It is
in this oreneral order that the lakes of North America are considered in
the present volume. The standpoint from which the subject is treated is
that of the geologist and geographer, its relation to man being left to the
archaeologist and the historian.

C O ]S^ T E X T S.





Depkessioxs on New Land Aiseas . I

Basins due to Atmospheric Agencies . ^ o

" " " Aqieols Agencies .......... y

" " " Glacial Agencies 1^

" " " Volcanic Agencies . . . . . • . • • . li

" " " Impact of Meteors .......••• - ^

" " " Earthquakes -o

" " " Organic Agencies -('*

" " " Movements in the Earth's Crust . 28

" " " Land-Slides . 01

" " " Chemical Action 31

Conclusion ^"^

Chapter II.



Tides "-^

Waves and Currents .........•■•'">

Seiche ........•••••••• '^^

Temperature .........••••• '^'J

Influence of Lakes on Climate 3^

Influence of Lakes on the Flow of Streams ....... •'©

Lakes as Settling Basins .......■•••• •'■'

Mechanical Sediments .......••••• 'H

Chapter III.


Sea Cliffs ^'^

Terraces .........•••••




Embankments 46

Deltas 48

Ice-built Walls .............. 51

Chapter IV.


Fresh Lakes.

Chemical Composition ............ 55

Types of Fresh Lakes ............. 57

The Laurentian Lakes ............ 57

The U. S. Lake Survey 57

Chemistry of the Waters of the St. Lawrence 59

Erosion of Lake Shores ............ 60

Commerce and Fisheries ............ 61

Mountain Lakes.

Lake Tahoe 63

Lake Chelan .............. 65

Saline Lakes.

Saline Lakes of Oceanic Origin 69

Saline Lakes of Terrestrial Origin 70

Chemical Precipitates ............ ^1

Great Salt Lake ............. "^

Mono Lake ............... 83

Chapter Y.

Lakes of Humid Regions ............ 90

Lakes of Arid Regions . . . . . . . . . . • .93

Chapter YI.


Pleistocene Lakes of the Laurentian Basin ....... 96

Lake Agassiz ........ ...... 103

Pleistocene Lakes of the Great Basin ........ 106 »

Lakes of the Remote Past ............ 114

Lndex 122



Plate 1. Ox-bow Lakes, Lower Mississippi

" 2. View of Stockton Bar, L'tah

" 3. Map of Stockton Bar, Utah 1-

" 4. Map of Gravel Bar retaining Humboldt Lake, Nevada . . .14

" 5. Map of Crater Lake, Oregon 2*^

" 6. Sketch of Abert Lake, Oregon 2()

" 7. Chart of Laurentian Lakes, showing Prevailing Cirrents . . ;14

" 8. Sea-cliff in Boulder Clay, South Manitou Island, Lake

Michigan ....•••••••• ^^

" 9. Sea-cliff in Sandstone, Av Train Island, Lake Superior . . .44

" 10. Embankment formed in Lake Bonneville, Wellsville, Utah . 4(5

" 11. Gravel Spit, Shore of Au Train Island, Lake Superior . . 48

" 12. A Recurved Spit, Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan .... •>()

" 13. Sea-cliffs and Terraces formed on the Shore of Lake Bonneville,

Oquirrh Range, Utah . . . • ^2

" 14. Map of Saline and Alkaline Lakes in the Arid Region . . .70

" 15. Map of Great Salt Lake, Utah, showing Changes in Area . . 78

" 16. The High Sierra, from North Shore of Mono Lake, California . 84

" 17. Map of Mono Lake, California ^^^

" 18. Map of Lake Iroquois ''^

" 19. Map of Lakes Bonneville and Lahontan 1" '

" 20. Tufa Towers on the Shore of Pyramid Lake, Nevada . . . llo

" 21. Tufa Crags, showing Successive Deposits, Carson Desert, Nevada 112

" 22. Typical Specimen of Thinolitic Tufa H*'

" 23. Pyramid Island, Pyramid Lake, Nevada !-'•

Figure 1. Cross Sections of the Canons of Canadian and Mora Rivers,

1 ^
New Mexico ^'

2. Profile of a Sea-cliff and Terrace 44

3. Profile of a Cut-and-Built Terrace -^-^

4. Sketch Map of an Embankment ■*'

5. Map of Sand Bar about the Head of Lake Superior . . 48

6. Map of Sand Bar on the South Shore of Lake Ontario . . 49

7. Section , OF a Delta . . . • • • ■ • • • ^

8. Diagram showing the Rise and Fall of Lake Lahontan . . 1<»8

9. Diagram shoaving the Relation of the Terraces of Lake Lahontan
to Pyramid Lake . . • • • • • • • •





Difficulties arise in classifying lake basins, similar in character to
those met with when a systematic discussion of glaciers, rivers, mountains
and other features of the earth's surface is attempted. That is, there are
no natural groups separated by hard and fast lines, into which they
naturally fall. Certain types may be selected, however, answering to
genera among plants and animals, about which most lakes may l)e
grouped. In selecting these types we are guided by their mode of origin,
and are thus led to an incomplete genetic classification, based on the
natural agencies which produce depressions in the earth's surface.

Depi-ossioiis on new land area. — On lands recently elevated above
the sea or left exposed by the evaporation or drainage of inland water bodies,
there are usually inequalities, and water frequently collects in the depres-
sions and forms lakes. There are comparatively few lakes of this type in
North America, for the reason that large portions of our coasts are sinking
and new land areas are rare. The lakes of Florida. hoAvever, are good
examples of this class. They are surrounded l)y marine rocks of recent
origin, and are but slightly elevated above the sea. In fact, all of the
topographic features of Florida indicate immaturity. The luxuriant
vegetation of the southeastern coastal plain, masks the slight inequalities
of the surface, and, by clogging the slack drainage, leads to a greater

1 This subject has been discussed by numerous writers, and lias RmI to controversies not
yet ende-d. The most extended and most systematic treatment tliat it has received may
be found in an essay by W. M. Davis "On the classification of lake basins," in Boston
Soc. Nat. Hist., Proc, vol. 21, 1882, pp. 315-381. The mrmerous references given in this
paper constitute the best biblioiiraphy of the subject available. An important supplementary
paper by the same author is republished as an appendix oi the present volume.


expansion of the lakes than wonkl appear if the hmcl was barren. The
wealth of vegetation tends also to preserve the original barriers from
erosion. Abont the southern shore of Hudson bay there is another area
recent!}^ abandoned by the sea, on which there are lakes, but this region
is so little known that it cannot be pointed to with confidence as a case
in point. In the Great Basin, as the vast area of interior drainage
between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky mountains is termed, there are
many lakes, some of them of large size, which occupy depressions in the
surfaces of sedimentary deposits left exposed by the evaporation of much
larger Pleistocene water bodies. Great Salt lake and Sevier lake, Utah,
occupy the lowest depressions in valleys formerly flooded by the waters
of a great inland sea to which the name Lake Bonneville has been
applied. Pyramid, Walker and other lakes in Nevada, occur in valleys
which are deeply filled with the sediment of another ancient water body
named Lake Lahontan. In these instances, however, and in many others
of 'similar character throughout the Arid Region, the positions of the
present lakes on the approximately level floors of desert valleys have
been partially detennined by recent movements of large blocks of the
earth's crust adjacent to lines of fracture, and by the unequal deposition
of alluvial material swept out from mountain valleys and deposited on the
adjacent plain. These recent changes have modified the character of the
basins now occupied by lakes, but essentially they are depressions on new
land areas, and form the most typical examples of their class that can
be found in this country.

There are new land areas about the borders of the Laurentian lakes,
which have been left exposed by the recession of still greater lakes that
occupied the same basin at a comparatively recent date, and also in the
region drained by Red river in Minnesota and Canada, formerly flooded a
vast lake named in honor of Louis Agassiz. Along some of our rivers,
also, which flow through ancient valleys now deeply filled, there are
narrow areas of new land, similar to the recently exposed borders of the
Laurentian lakes. In all of these instances, however, the lakes formed
in the inequalities of the surface are small and of little importance.

Lakes on new land areas are surrounded by topographic forms
expressive of youth, and are themselves evidence of topographic im-
maturit}'. When drainage is established on such areas the basins are
soon emptied. The lives of lakes of this class, as is the case with all
terrestrial water bodies, depend largely on climatic conditions. They
may continue longer in one region than in another, but in the


ordinary course of topographical development are transient features.
In humid regions they are drained more quickly than where the rainfall
is small. They are fresh or saline according as they overflow or are
without outlet.

On old land areas where the streams have 'reached maturity or old
age, the inequalities of the surface due to the accidents of original depo-
sition are removed, and lakes of the class here considered are absent.
This is shown in a striking manner by contrasting Florida with the
adjacent Appalachian region. In the former, lakes are abundant, and
their surroundings give abundant evidence of recent origin ; in the latter,
the topographic forms as well as the terranes from which they have been
carved, bear the stamp of antiquity.

Lands that have been subjected to intense glaciation, or have re-
ceived a covering of glacial deposit, are essentially new land area, and
bear evidence of topographic youth ; but the lakes characteristic of such
rejuvenated lands will be considered in advance in connection with other
results of glacial action.

Basins due to atmospheric agencies. — The weathering of rock
surfaces progresses unevenly, on account of varying hardness and" the
varying degree to which they yield to chemical changes. This is
noticeable particularly on granitic areas, as granite is especially prone to
disintegration, and produces uneven surfaces when weathered. The
tendency to decay unequally, as weathering progresses, probably exists
in all rocks ; and it is to be expected that hills and hollows would result
for the action of the atmosphere on any variety of deposit, especially if
marked variations occur in its texture and composition. This tendency is
most easily detected when the bedding is nearly horizontal, and large
sheets of nearly level strata are exposed to the sky.

The products of weathering are removed by water in solution and in
suspension, and are l)lown away by the wind. When removed by water,
the formation of basins is checked by the cutting of outlets. When
carried away by the wind, depressions known as " wind-erosion basins "
are left.^ These are basins of excavation or true rock basins, and in this
respect resemble depressions eroded by glaciers. Some observers have
concluded that many of the rock basins commonly ascribed to glacial

1 Numerous examples of shallow, saucer-shaped depressions in shale, due to the action
of the wind on areas bare of vegetation, in the southeastern part of Colorado, have recently-
been described by G. K. Gilbert. Jour, of GeoL, vol. 3, 1895, pp. 47-49.


action, are wind erosion basins or areas of pronounced rock decay, from
which gdaciers have removed the h)Osened material A\ithont deeply abraid-
ing- the unweathered rock beneath. The mode of origin of rock-basins
is still a matter of controversy, l)at it seems evident to the writer, not
only from reading the vfirious views advanced by others, but also from
personal observation in many lake regions, that I'ock basins have been
formed by each of the agencies mentioned as well as by a combination of
the two. The formation of basins by ice erosion and by chemical solution
might be included among the results of atmospheric action, luit under
the classification here adopted they fall in different categories.

Atmospheric agencies also lead to the formation of basins liy depo-
sition ; as for example, when sand is drifted into dunes. Drifting sand
frequently travels across the country for scores of miles in the direction
of the prevailing Avinds, and sometimes obstructs valleys so as to cause
lakes to form. The best illustration of this occurrence known to the
writer, is in the central part of the State of Washington. The drainage
of one of the deep narrow valleys known locally as " Coulees," which
trench the Great Plain of the Columbia, lias been obstructed by immense
sand dunes, so as to form a dam and retain the water of Moses lake.^
Below the dam of drifted sand there are several springs fed by lake
waters percolating through the obstruction. These serve to keep the
waters of the lake fresh. The springs below the sand drifts unite to form
Alkali creek, which in winter sometimes has sufficient volume to reach
the Columbia, but in summer suffers from evaporation, and terminates
in a series of alkaline pools.

Drifting sand may lead to the destruction of a lake as is illustrated
b}^ an example in western Nevada. The branch of Truckee river,
supplying Winnemucca lake, is partially obstructed b}' wind-blown sand,
and a struggle for supremacy between the river and the encroaching
dunes is in progress. Should the sands jirevail and a dam be formed,
the water supply of Winnemucca lake would be diverted to Pyramid
lake, and its basin would soon become desiccated.

Volcanic dust is carried great distances b}- air currents, and might
accumulate in a valley so as to obstruct its drainage. Xo lakes, retained
by dams of this nature, are known on tliis continent, although thousands
of square miles in the western part of the United States were covered, in
Pleistocene and recent times, to a depth of many feet with fine volcanic

1 I. C. Russell, ''Geological Reconnoissauce in Central Washington," U. S. Geol. Surv.
Bulletin, Xo. 108.


deposits, which in some instances have assisted other agencies in pro-
ducing inequalities of the surface.

Basins due to aqueous ag-encies. — In this ckiss of basins there are
two important subdivisions : a, basins due to the action of streams, and
b, basins due to the action of waves and currents. In eacii sulnhvision,
but more especially in the first, there are basins formed by excavation
and basins due to deposition, or basins due to destructive and to construc-
tive agencies. Frequently the two processes have united in tlie formation
of a single depression.

a. Basins formed by streams. — The drainage of new land areas, es-
pecially in humid regions, soon obliterates the depression due to the
original inequalities of the surface, as already explained : but other basins
resulting from the action of the streams themselves are formed.

3 When the topography of a young land area is yet immature, and more
especially when the elevation is considerable and the climate humid, the
even flow of the draining streams is apt to be interrupted b}^ rapids and
water-falls, at the bases of which excavation is accelerated and depressions
formed. The deepening of such portions of stream-lieds. results princi-
pally from the friction on their Ijottoms and sides, produced bv sand and
stones moved by the swift currents. Some distance below falls and
rapids, the current usually slackens, and the waters deposit a portion
of their load. A basin of this character is now being excavated below
Niagara falls, and other examples may be seen in the channels of many
mountain streams. Even on old land areas like the southern portion of
the^Appalachian region, where the streams are engaged in cutting down
synclinal table-lands in which hard and soft strata alternate, small basins
of the character here referred to are of common occurrence, Shojil d a
stream chaniiel in which such inequalities have been produced be aban-
doned as a line of drainage, the basins would be transformed into lakes.

The best~example of a lake l)asin of considerable size formed at the
base of a water-fall, that has come under the writer's notice, is in tlie
Grand Coulee, near Coulee City, in the State of Washington. The
Columbia river now skirts the northern and western Ijorders of the vast
lava-covered region known as the Great Plain of the Columbia, or more
familiarly as the " Big Bend country," but in Pleistocene times its present
course was obstructed by glaciers which descended from the mountains
to the north, and it was forced to cut across the Big Bend through a
series of deep canons in the lava. Its temporar}^ course was through


Grand Coulee, and near the present site of Coulee City, it plunged over
a precipice about two hundred feet high, and formed a cataract of the
nature of Shoshone falls, Idaho, but rivaling Niagara in grandeur. Two
basins were excavated in the rocks at the base of the falls, which Avere
left as lakes when the glaciers retreated and the Columbia returned to its
old channel. • These lakes still exist although desert shrubs grow on the
brink of the precipice over which the waters of the flooded and ice-laden
river previously thundered. Each of the lakes is by estimate a mile
long and half a mile broad, and of considerable depth, as is shown by the
dark blue color of theij' waters when seen from the crest of the encircling

The. deeper positions of stream channels excavated during floods, may
be transformed into lakes when the waters subside or when the course of
a stream is changed. This is shown by the temporarj^ ponds remaining
in many humid countries during droughts when water no longer flows
through the customary surface channels, but is more common in arid
ro^ions where the streams are subjected to still greater fluctuations.

The basins just described are formed principally by excavation, those
noted below are due to deposition.

In regions of rapid erosion, a high grade and consequently rapid
tributary, may bring to. a sluggish trunk stream more detritus than it is
able to carry away. When this ha})pens, the main stream is more or less
completely obstructed, and lakes may result. Basins of this nature occur
in the steep-walled valleys of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky mountains,
and are to be expected wherever streams have cut back their trenches far
into an upland and receive high-grade tributaries.

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Online LibraryIsrael C. (Israel Cook) RussellLakes of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology → online text (page 1 of 14)