The Lake Superior varve stratigraphy and implications for eastern Lake Agassiz outflow from 10,700 to 8900 cal ybp (9.5-8.0 14C ka)

Andy Breckenridge

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37 Scopus citations


Glaciolacustrine rhythmites within sediment cores from Lake Superior record the regional recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) from 10,700 to 8900 cal ybp [ca. 9.5-8.0 14C ka]. LIS retreat from Superior opened eastern Lake Agassiz outlets so that the rhythmites reflect the combined impacts of sediment-laden meltwater and Lake Agassiz discharge. Multiple rhythmite stratigraphies, a time series analysis of the thickness measurements, and high-resolution inorganic carbonate data demonstrate that this is an annual record (varved). The varve thickness records primarily document regional ice margin dynamics; correlative thick varve sequences at 9100 cal ybp [∼ 8.1 14C ka] and 10,400-10,200 cal ybp [∼ 9.2-9.0 14C ka] record two periods of enhanced glaciofluvial discharge, most likely moraine formation (the Nakina and Nipigon). General varve cessation is associated with the circumvention of Lake Agassiz and glacial meltwater into Lake Ojibway at 9040 cal ybp [∼ 8.1 14C ka], although adjacent to the inlets from Lake Nipigon, rhythmic sedimentation persisted for 200 years. Positively identifying Lake Agassiz catastrophic discharge events remains speculative but seems feasible. Following retreat of Marquette ice that had re-advanced to fill the basin, the initial influx of Lake Agassiz water is expected at around 10,600 cal ybp [∼ 9.4 14C ka], but at this time, most of northeastern Lake Superior was covered by ice. Three sets of thick-thin varves in western Lake Superior perhaps record influxes of Lake Agassiz at around 10,630, 10,600, and 10,570 cal ybp [∼ 9.4 14C ka]. Varve formation in Superior coincides with high lake levels in Lake Huron, suggesting that high lake levels in Huron correspond to periods of high Agassiz and/or meltwater flow into Lake Superior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-61
Number of pages17
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 23 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support to Thomas C. Johnson from the Weinert Foundation and the University of Minnesota Duluth enabled the recovery and study of the sediment cores. I gratefully acknowledge Thomas Johnson, Captain M. King and crew aboard the R/V Blue Heron for the successful coring operations on Lake Superior, and thank Nigel Wattrus and Deborah Rausch for providing core LS00-3P for analysis. This paper was improved by the reviews from Thomas Johnson, Harvey Thorleifson, and David Rea.

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Carbonate sediments
  • Glaciolacustrine sedimentation
  • Lake Agassiz
  • Lake Superior
  • Varves

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • BH01
  • BH02
  • LS00

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