Glacial Lake Missoula Flood – Dry Falls – Video

Glacial Lake Missoula Flood – Dry Falls – Video

A fascinating “Nick on the Rocks” video about Dry Falls in Washington state.

Nick describes it as “An ice-age flood, with water rocks, mud and icebergs 3½ miles wide on a thundering journey to the Pacific Ocean.”

The flood raced down the Columbia River with 10 times the power of all the world’s rivers combined.

I discuss this flood in detail in “Not by Fire but by Ice,” (Chapter 15, “Noah’s Deluge”).

I’ve made it a point to visit many of the viewing locations including Dry Falls, the Wallula Gap, and the Clark Fork River. That’s where a tongue of ice, the Purcell Lobe, moved south from Canada and dammed up the river to create Glacial Lake Missoula.

Glacial Lake Missoula was bigger than all five Great Lakes put together. When the ice dam broke, the ensuing flood, also known as the great scablands flood, created Dry Falls. 

When you view the video, even when you visit the area in person, it is almost impossible to understand the vast scale of what you’re seeing. This photo showing the visitor center in relation to the size of the falls helps a little.

Nick Zentner is the science outreach and education coordinator for the Department of Geological Sciences at Central Washington University. He has produced more than 40 short videos about Central Washington geology.

I’ll be posting more fascinating episodes of “Nick on the Rocks” in the days to come.

15 thoughts on “Glacial Lake Missoula Flood – Dry Falls – Video

  1. How long did the flood last? How long did it take to carve out all that land? Where is all the debris?

    • The glacier would advance blocking the valley. When the backed-up lake reached some 2500 ft deep, the ice dam would fail. A wall of water, ice and trees would roll across the flat lands of Washington and exit through the Columbia River into the Pacific.
      Researchers have estimated it happened every 70 years, or so.
      Thus the incredible scouring of the “coullies” and bad lands.

      • Years ago there was a book published on the original researcher, named Bretz.

        Wiki has a good write up.

    • There were actually series of floods that created the Channeled Scab Lands of eastern Washington and western Idaho. The number of suggested floods ranges from one to as many as 40 events separated by a few thousand years. A lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet would block out flow down tributaries to the Colombia river, causing the lake to rise to the point where the ice lobe would float, breaking free of the ice sheet. The entire mass, including water to about half the volume of Lake Michigan, would then head for the Pacific post-haste. The floods rafted boulders up the Willamette valley to about the location of Salem.

  2. What is amazing is that the scab lands were formed in spite of the fact that basalt is one of the hardest and possibly the hardest igneous rocks on earth. The only explaination for the erosion that could make sense is that the layers of basalt were fractured and not one solid mass of stone.

    • Yep, there’s a lot of interesting sites on the channeled scab lands, I’m actually in this area. Originally mainstream science scoffed at the notion when it was proposed, sounds familiar…

    • The Plateau is the result of numerous eruptive events, so yes, it was not a solid mass. Also, the thickness of these flows is limited and there was lots of soil beneath.

  3. I have been there several times,it is always impressive. The second photo showing people on a catwalk are actually just over the edge of the deep canyon,so you can look straight down the side of the canyon. The panorama in from of you there is almost overwhelming,cars at the bottom are tiny in appearance.

    The signs of the massive flow are visible in the walls and in the immediate upstream from the falls. There are good interpretive boards there that explains the basics of the area.

    It is worth the visit at it is HUGE!

  4. Used to camp there every 4th of July. One of the most amazing places in the world.
    As a bonus Grand Coulee dam is nearby and definitely worth visiting.
    The park beneath the falls has all manner of camp sites from cabins down to tent spots. There is nice 9 hole golf course.
    Fishing, hiking, rock hounding, astronomy, water skiing etc etc.
    Definitely a fun place to go.
    If you suffer from arthritis Soap lake is nearby as well.

  5. all this science despite the scientists for many decades shamed fellow scientists who suggest this very same idea presented above.

  6. so the “fan”area is where the water started to lose force and the boulders dropped hell of a nasty area to do anything in.
    has me wondering now about some massive greengranite boulders in a gully near they got so round and in such an odd spot
    maybe they were from glaciation as well.hmm?
    aus doesnt have a lot of glacier evidence i know of, some in Sth Aus is all I’ve personally seen.
    have to admit i have also not being paying attention either;-)

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