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

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Abstract

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.

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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

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Key words

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