Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Great Lakes response to catastrophic inflows from Lake Agassiz: some simulations of a hydraulic geometry for chained lake systems

  • 50 Accesses

  • 10 Citations


Simulations (216) were undertaken to evaluate the impact of typical Lake Agassiz outbursts on the upper Great Lakes under plausible variations in lake surface areas and sill widths. Flows over sills out of lakes are modelled using the equation for a broad-crested weir, with the model time increment set to one day. The model was evaluated for Lake Agassiz outlet sill widths of 1, 4, and 10 km and with outbursts ranging from 100 000 m3 s−1 to 600 000 m3 s−1. The surface area of Lake Agassiz was evaluated for 182 000 km2 ±20%. The surface area of the upper Great Lakes were modelled as either Lake Algonquin (Superior, Huron and Michigan basins =200 000 km2) or Lake Minong (Superior basin 87 000 km2) with sill widths of 0.5, 1.5, and 3 km.

Downstream peak discharge modelled at the outlet sill of the upper Great Lakes, was normally between 20 and 60% of the initial outburst, with a lagtime to peak usually between 80 and 280 days. Upper Great Lakes water level rises of between 2 and 20 m are calculated with rises to 36 m for some configurations. Rise magnitude is inversely related to the width of the outlet sills at both lake systems and to the surface area of the receiving lake.

The modeling implies that measuring outflow from the upper Great Lakes, or water level rises, does not in itself determine peak or total outflow from Lake Agassiz unless the dimensions of the Lake Agassiz and upper Great Lakes outflow sills are also known.

Lake level rises probably coincided on the upper Great Lakes with meltout from the winter freeze-up. Lake levels re-attain equilibrium values with respect to through flow within three years of an outburst. Substantial episodic lake level rises in the upper Great Lakes may have had severe impacts on the lake biota, for example via the affect on spawning grounds.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Botts, L. & B. Krushelnicki, 1987. The Great Lakes: an environmental atlas and resource book. United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada: Chicago and Toronto, 44 pp.

  2. Catto, N. R., R. J. Patterson & W. A. Gorman, 1982. The Late Quaternary geology of the Chalk River region, Ontario and Quebec. Can. J. Earth Sci. 19: 1218–1231.

  3. Clarke, A. H., 1981. The Fresh Water Molluscs of Canada. National Museums of Canada. Ottawa, 446 pp.

  4. Farrand, W. R. & C. W. Drexler, 1985. Late Wisconsinan and Holocene history of the Lake Superior basin. In P. F. Karrow & P. E. Calkin (eds), Quaternary Evolution of the Great Lakes. Geol. Assoc. Can., Spec. Paper 30: 1–16.

  5. Henderson, F. M., 1970. Open channel flow. MacMillan: New York, 522 pp.

  6. Horton, R. E. with C. E. Grunsky, 1927. Hydrology of the Great Lakes. Report of the Engineering Board of Review of the Sanitary District of Chicago on the lake lowering controversy and a program of remedial measures, Part III, Appendix II, 432 pp.

  7. Karrow, P. F., A. H. Clarke & H. B. Herrington, 1972. Pleistocene Molluscs from Lake Iroquois deposits in Ontario, Can. J. Earth Sci. 9: 589–595.

  8. Kehew, A. E. & M. L. Lord, 1986. Origin and large-scale erosional features of glacial-lake spillways in the northern Great Plains. Geol. Soc. Amer. Bull. 97: 162–177.

  9. Kehew, A. E. & M. L. Lord, 1987. Glacial-lake outbursts along the midcontinent margins of the Laurentide ice-sheet, In L. Mayer & D. Nash (eds), 1987. Catastrophic Flooding. Allen & Unwin: Boston: 95–1290.

  10. Lewis, C. F. M. & T. W. Anderson, 1989. Oscillations of levels and cool phases of the Laurentian Great Lakes caused by inflows from glacial Lakes Agassiz and Barlow-Ojibway. J. Paleolim. 2: 99–146.

  11. Leverett, F. & F. B. Taylor, 1915. The Pleistocene of Indian and Michigan and the History of the Great Lakes. United States Geological Survey Monograph 53, Washington, 529 pp.

  12. Mandrak, N. E. & E. J. Crossman, 1992. Postglacial dispersal of freshwater fishes into Ontario. Can. J. Zool. 70: 2247–2259.

  13. Miller, B. B., P. F. Karrow & G. L. Mackie, 1985. Late Quaternary molluscan faunal changes in the Huron basin. In P. F. Karrow & P. E. Calkin (eds), Quaternary Evolution of the Great Lakes. Geol. Assoc. of Can. Spec. Pap. 30: 95–107.

  14. Phillips, B. A. M., 1988. Palaeogeographic reconstruction of shoreline archaeological sites around Thunder Bay, Ontario. Geoarchaeology, An International Journal 3: 127–138.

  15. Phillips, B. A. M., 1993. A transgressive event on Lake Minong, northshore of Lake Superior — possible evidence of Lake Agassiz inflow, circa 9.5 ka BP. Volume of Abstracts, 3rd Internat. Geomorph. Conf., McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 220 pp.

  16. Scott, W. B. & E. J. Crossman, 1973. Freshwater Fishes of Canada. Bull Fish. Res. Bd Can., No 184.

  17. Teller, J. T. & L. H. Thorleifson, 1987. Catastrophic flooding into the Great Lakes from Lake Agassiz. In L. Mayer & D. Nash (eds), 1987. Catastrophic Flooding, Allen & Unwin, Boston: 121–138.

  18. Teller, J. T., 1985. Glacial Lake Agassiz and its influence on the Great Lakes. In P. F. Karrow & P. E. Calkin (eds), Quaternary Evolution of the Great Lakes. Geol. Assoc. Can., Spec. Paper 30: 1–16.

  19. Teller, J. T., 1987. Proglacial lakes and the southern margins of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. In W. F. Ruddiman & H. E. Wright, Jr. (eds), North America and adjacent oceans during the last deglaciation. Boulder, Colorado, Geol. Soc. Amer., The Geology of North America, v. K-3: 39–70.

  20. Teller, J. T., 1990. Volume and routing of late-glacial runoff from the southern Laurentide Ice Sheet. Quat. Res. 34: 12–23.

  21. Tinkler, K. J. & J. W. Pengelly, 1993. Great Lakes response to catastrophic inflows from Lake Agassiz: some simulations, Abstract, IGCP-253 Meeting, Termination of the Pleistocene, Winnipeg: 54.

  22. Tinkler, K. J., J. W. Pengelly, W. G. Parkins & J. Terasmae, 1992. Evidence for high water levels in the Erie basin during the Younger Dryas Chronozone. J. Paleolim. 7: 215–234.

  23. Leopold, L. B., M. G. Wolman & J. P. Miller, 1964. Fluvial processes in Geomorphology. W. H. Freeman: San Francisco, 522 pp.

  24. Taylor, F. B., 1897. Notes on the abandoned beaches of the north shore of Lake Superior. American Geologist 20: 111–127.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tinkler, K.J., Pengelly, J.W. Great Lakes response to catastrophic inflows from Lake Agassiz: some simulations of a hydraulic geometry for chained lake systems. J Paleolimnol 13, 251–266 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00682768

Download citation

Key words

  • modelling catastrophic
  • Agassiz
  • outbursts
  • Great Lakes
  • lakes
  • water level rises