Washington March 22, 2017
One Of the Biggest Floods In Earth’s History May Have Happened Here In Washington
Oftentimes when we’re enjoying the scenery of our state, we forget to stop and think about how these spectacular natural wonders came to be. One jaw-dropping location that’s been controversial over the years is Washington’s Channeled Scablands in the eastern part of our state. Studied by handfuls of geologists over the years, it was the work of J Harlen Bretz that would lead to the discovery of this landmark’s intriguing past.
For ages, the Channeled Scablands origin remained a mystery to those who had wondered about it.
The extraordinary landforms puzzled geologists for years. It wasn't until the early 1900s that a high school teacher would be bold enough to inquire about where these formations came from.
Farmers that live in the region during the early 1900s quickly wrote off the land as being meaningless, unable to use these rocky parts to plant their wheat. But lucky for us the same could not be said of America's geologists. In 1909 the high school teacher J Harlen Bretz would make a trip to the University of Washington to observe the U.S. Geological Survey's latest topographic map of the Quincy Basin.
While Bretz may have only been 27 years old and lacking any formal training when it came to geology, he managed to notice something on this new map that others had failed to pay attention to.
After studying the new topographic map, Bretz pointed out that there was a huge cataract on the western edge of Quincy Basin. From the map, Bretz had estimated that there was a place in the Basin that spilled water out into the Columbia River. While there appeared to be no current source of water, it was determined that if there was a source of water fro this location that it would've treated a canyon waterfall that would be bigger than Niagara Falls.
After questioning the staff about this peculiar feature, no one could provide him with any answers. It was allegedly the lack of questions answered that would drive Bretz to earn his Ph.D. to become a geologist.
After time had passed, Bretz would eventually come to make a trip back to Washington to further examine the Scablands and Columbia Plateau.
The now trained geologist would spend two season out in the field, only to return with a answer that many would immediately argue against. Bretz's findings were that the region had experienced a massive flood, one that was possibly
the largest in all of Earth's history. Explaining that all of this other hypotheses couldn't have been true, he went on to write about his theories on how the Scablands came to be what we see today.
Bretz would go on to explain that he felt a massive high-energy flood would've had the power to the quickly damage the area's bedrock.
While the hypothesis that Bretz had come up with made sense to some, the majority of fellow geologists didn't agree with what he had to say. Naysayers questioned Bretz hypothesis by retorting back wondering where all of the supposed water would've come from.
It wouldn't be until the early 1940s that another USGS geologist would declare that he had come across strong evidence that suggested a massive flow of water had happened in Western Montana.
Geologist Joseph Pardee reported that the source of the extensive water had come from an enormous body of water we now refer to as the Glacial Lake Missoula. The outed evidence that supported Bretz's original hypothesis came to light and would begin to change the minds of many previously doubting geologists.
The same geologists who had made a point to vocalize their opposing views on Bretz's original hypothesis were now visiting the Scablands to see if he was perhaps onto something.
After taking trips to see the area for themselves in person, many geologists changed their mind once they saw the land that clearly looked as though it was created by some sort of flood.
Later on another geologist by the name of Richard Waitt who was working with the USGS would publish fascinating new findings in the year 1980. After exploring the Walla Walla Valley in Southern Washington, Waitt realized that it was more than obvious that the area had experienced more than one flood over time. Originally arguing that there must have been at least 40 floods that rage through the Scablands, later evidence would suggest that it was more likely that over 80 floods took place during the end of our last Ice Age.
Unfortunately it wouldn't be until Bretz reached the ripe age of 96 years old in 1979 that the Geological Society of America would award him with the highest honor - the Penrose Medal.
Maintaining a wonderful sense of humor even in his latest years of life, Bretz would apparently make a joke after receiving the award that all of his enemies were no longer alive and that there was no need for him to gloat over the much-deserved recognition. Sadly, J Harlen Bretz would pass away just two years later after receiving the Penrose Medal.
So what is the final determination of how this remarkable area came to be? Over a two to three thousand year period of time, roughly 13,000 years ago, an ice dam broke and continuously unleashed a torrent of water onto the area. Those who have researched the land's origin claim that if this same kind of water flow were to be unleashed today that the majority of Portland's skyline would be completely submerged by floodwaters. Isn't that quite the image to imagine!
Natural wonders like this are just one of the many reasons why we’re spoiled to live in the Evergreen State! To further bask in our state’s beauty, read about how
Here’s All The Proof You Need That Washington Is The Most Beautiful Place In The Country!