The need for paleoflood investigations on the American reach of the Red River of the North

Scott St. George, Joseph Zeleznik, Judith Avila, Matthew Schlauderaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Over the past century, the Red River of the North has been the least stationary river in the continental United States. In Canada, historical and paleoenvironmental evidence indicates severe floods were common during the early 1800s, with the record ce 1826 flood having an estimated peak discharge 50% higher than the second-most severe flood ever observed. Unfortunately, the recorded history of flooding upstream in the United States does not begin until seven decades after this event. If 1826 was an equally exceptional flood on American reach of the river, then current flood-frequency curves for the river underestimate significantly the risks posed by future flooding. Alternatively, if the American stretch did not produce a major flood in 1826, then the recent spate of flooding that has occurred over the past two decades is exceptional within the context of the past 200 years. Communities in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area are building a 58-km long, $2.75 billion (USD) diversion channel that would redirect floodwaters westward around the two cities before returning it to the main channel. Because this and other infrastructure in North Dakota and Minnesota is intended to provide protection against low-probability, high-magnitude floods, new paleoflood investigations in the region would help local, state, and federal policy-makers better understand the true flood threats posed by the Red River of the North.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-225
Number of pages6
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Geography and Spatial Sciences program (grant #1830640).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • United States
  • flood frequency analysis
  • floods
  • paleoflood hydrology
  • record floods


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