Ice-Rafted Erratics and Bergmounds from Pleistocene Outburst Floods, Rattlesnake Mountain, Washington, USA


Exotic ice-rafted debris from the breakup of ice-dammed glacial lakes Missoula and Columbia is common in slackwater areas along the 1,100-km route for outburst floods in the northwestern US. A detailed analysis was performed at Rattlesnake Mountain, which lay beyond the limit of the former ice sheet, where an exceptionally high concentration of ice-rafted debris exists midway along the floods’ path. Here floodwaters temporarily rose to 380 m elevation (forming short-lived Lake Lewis) behind the first substantial hydraulic constriction for the outburst floods near Wallula Gap. Within the 60 km2 study area more than 2,100 erratic isolates and clusters, as well as bergmounds were recorded. Three quarters of erratic boulders are of an exotic granitic composition, which stand in stark contrast to dark Columbia River basalt, the sole bedrock in the region. Other exotics include Proterozoic quartzite and argillite as well as gneiss, diorite, schist and gabbro, all once in direct contact with the Cordilleran Ice Sheet to the north. Most ice-rafted debris is concentrated between 200 and 300 m elevation. Far fewer erratics and bergmounds lie above 300 m elevation because of the preponderance of less-than-maximum floods. Plus, larger deep-rooted icebergs were forced to ground farther away from the ancient shorelines of transient Lake Lewis. As floodwaters moved across the uneven surface of Rattlesnake Mountain, many erratic-bearing icebergs congregated into pre-existing gullies that trend crosswise to flood flow.
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