The Mississippi River records glacial-isostatic deformation of North America

Andrew D. Wickert, Robert S. Anderson, Jerry X. Mitrovica, Shawn Naylor, Eric C. Carson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The imprint of glacial isostatic adjustment has long been recognized in shoreline elevations of oceans and proglacial lakes, but to date, its signature has not been identified in river long profiles. Here, we reveal that the buried bedrock valley floor of the upper Mississippi River exhibits a 110-m-deep, 300-km-long overdeepening that we interpret to be a partial cast of the Laurentide Ice Sheet forebulge, the ring of flexurally raised lithosphere surrounding the ice sheet. Incision through this forebulge occurred during a single glacial cycle at some time between 2.5 and 0.8 million years before present, when ice-sheet advance forced former St. Lawrence River tributaries in Minnesota and Wisconsin to flow southward. This integrated for the first time the modern Mississippi River, permanently changing continental-scale hydrology and carving a bedrock valley through the migrating forebulge with sediment-poor water. The shape of the inferred forebulge is consistent with an ice sheet ~1 km thick near its margins, similar to the Laurentide Ice Sheet at the Last Glacial Maximum, and provides evidence of the impact of geodynamic processes on geomorphology even in the midst of a stable craton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereaav2366
JournalScience Advances
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 30 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Subsurface data were provided with the help of E. Engberg (USACE St. Paul), T. Dumoulin (USACE Rock Island), T. Mason (Wisconsin Department of Transportation), P. Schoephoester (Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey), R. Langel (Iowa Geological Survey), and R. Lively and R. Tipping (Minnesota Geological Survey). We thank local landowners for access during seismic surveys, including C. Jennings, the Ecker family, and the Docken-Delaney family. Seismic survey assistance was provided by V. Chandler, G.-H. C. Ng, and C. Sandell. Two anonymous reviewers guided improvements to the manuscript. A.D.W. was supported by the U.S. Department of Defense through the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program and by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. DGE 1144083. J.X.M. acknowledges support from NSF grant EAR-1525922 and Harvard University.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 The Authors.


Dive into the research topics of 'The Mississippi River records glacial-isostatic deformation of North America'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this