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Lake Maumee

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Lake Maumee

Stages of great lake development.

Glacial Lake Maumee was a proglacial lake that was an ancestor of present-day Lake Erie. It formed about 14,000 years ago. As the Erie Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier retreated at the end of the last ice age, it left meltwater in a previously existing depressional area that was the valley of an eastward-flowing river known as the Erigan River that probably emptied into the Atlantic Ocean following the route of today's Saint Lawrence River. Some geologists (see M.C. Hansen, references below) think that the Erigan could have been a downstream segment of the preglacial Teays River system. The glaciers destroyed or disturbed most of the preglacial drainage patterns and enlarged and deepened the Erigan basin.

Lake Maumee is the first of a series glacial lake, which occupied the Huron-Erie basin. It was preceded by a few small, disconnected lakes which lay between the ice margin and the southern divide of Erie basin.[1] The outlet past Fort Wayne was the lowest point on the border at the beginning of the lake's existence. Later, a northerly outlet was reached near Imlay, Michigan. The lake had two outlets for a short time. With the retreat of the ice barrier on the north, a lower outlet was found, ending the history of Lake Maumee and beginning the Lake Whittlesey era.[1] The name Lake Maumee was first applied in 1888 G. R. Dryer, of the Indiana Geological Survey, in an official report on the ‘’Geology of Allen County, Indiana, ‘’.[1]

Height of water

Map of Glacial Lake Maumee, Saginaw, and Chicago, based on the USGS Report of 1915
As the Erie Lobe retreated to the northeast, it left large debris deposits called moraines running at right angles to its line of retreat. One of these, called the Fort Wayne Moraine, was left at the site of present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana, where it acted as a dam that held back the waters of the lake. When the water was at its highest point, about 800 feet above sea level (ASL) (244 m), it left beach ridges that later became the routes of trails and highways. During this stage, the waters of the lake, possibly in response to an advance of the ice front at the lake's eastern end, overtopped a "sag" in the Fort Wayne Moraine. This caused a catastrophic drainage of the lake known as the Maumee Torrent that scoured a one- to two-mile-wide outlet running southwest to the Wabash River known as the Wabash-Erie Channel.

As the Erie Lobe of the Laurentian glacier melted towards the northeast, it left a series of moraines across Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. The Fort Wayne Moraine through Fort Wayne, Indiana formed the western boundary of a meltwater lake. The lake crested this barrier at 800 feet (240 m) above sea level, creating a stable lake for a period of time, which left beach ridges that is still visible. Later this gap in the ridge of the moraine became a pathway for animals and humans to traverse area and later, for trails and highways. During this stage, the waters of the lake, possibly in response to an advance of the ice front at the lake's eastern end, overtopped a "sag" in the Fort Wayne Moraine. This caused a catastrophic drainage of the lake known as the Maumee Torrent that scoured a one- to two-mile-wide (1.6-3.2 km) outlet running southwest to the Wabash River known as the Wabash-Erie Channel .[1]


Lake Maumee was the first large lake formed as the ice border shrank into the Erie-Maumee basin.[2] The outlet of the lake was at Fort Wayne, Indiana, was across the lowest place on the border of the basin. Its altitude seems to have been at first about 785 feet (239 m), or 212 feet (65 m)above Lake Erie, but during its life as an outlet, reduced to 760 feet (230 m). At its highest point, the lake used this single outlet . By the time, the lake levels reached the location of the Imlay outlet on the "Thumb," of Michigan, the Fort Wayne outlet was much lower than at the beginning and a lower lake level became established.[2] The highest beach is 785 feet (239 m) to 790 feet (240 m), near the Fort Wayne outlet, In Michigan its about 800 feet (240 m)with areas in Lapeer county its nearly 850 feet (260 m).[2] The Imlay outlet is 805 feet (245 m) to 810 feet (250 m) above sea level or 50 feet (15 m) above the bed of the Fort Wayne outlet.[2] The Imlay outlet opened into a small lake east and south of Flint. This lake extended to Swartz Creek. Thence west to a stream across Shiawassee and Clinton counties to the Grand River northwest of St. Johns.[2] The highest beach is very irregular. The first or highest beach exposure to wave action that the other beaches do not reflect. The second beach is more regular, and on the whole somewhat stronger than the highest. There is a third beach, which is generally weak and in places difficult to trace. The third beach connects with well-defined deltas which the higher levels do not have. They most notable are at the Raisin and the Huron rivers. The third beach is 20 feet (6.1 m) below the Imlay outlet. The outlet at that time may be across the "Thumb” in a lower passage a few miles north. The readvance of the ice sheet may have closed this outlet with a moraine closely bordering the Imlay outlet.[2] The lake beaches, because of their sandy or gravelly constitution, form better lines for highways than neighboring clayey tracts. Thus, early roads followed these natural routes along the lakes. The move to building roads on north and south and east and west lines has led to the abandonment of all or part of these ‘beach’ roads.[2]

The lake retreats in stages

Stages of Glacial Lake Maumee
Stage Years Ago Elevation (ft) Elevation (m) Outlet
Highest 14,000 800 244 Wabash-Erie Channel
Lowest 13,800 760 232 Grand River
Middle - 780 238 Imlay Outlet

Two later stages of Lake Maumee, (called the "Lowest" and the "Middle," in that order) had lower water levels because the retreating ice exposed an outlet lower than the Wabash-Erie Channel. The Lowest Maumee (elevation: about 760 ft (232 m) ASL) drained westward through the Grand River in Michigan and into Glacial Lake Chicago, an ancestor of present-day Lake Michigan. Another advance of the ice blocked that outlet, raising the lake level to about 780 feet (238 m) ASL, the stage known as the Middle Maumee. A new outlet called the "Imlay Outlet" formed that connected with an unobstructed segment of the Grand River farther west. There is enough uncertainty about this sequence that some authorities think that Middle Maumee might have preceded Lowest Maumee.

Fluctuations in water level continued through more stages (Akrona, 695 feet (212 m); Whittlesey, 738 feet (225 m) ASL; Warren and Wayne, 660–685 feet (201–209 m) ASL; and Lundy, 590–640 feet (180–195 m) ASL. This see-saw pattern continued until an eastern outlet opened at Niagara, establishing the drainage pattern of modern Lake Erie (569 feet (173 m) ASL). This involved the reversal of drainage in what is now northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio as the Maumee River outlet developed by capturing streams that formerly drained into the Wabash. The Great Black Swamp that once occupied much of the land between Sandusky, Ohio, and New Haven, Indiana, was a remnant of the bed of Glacial Lake Maumee. Geologists call the former lake bottom the Maumee Lacustrine Plain.

Highest Beach

The altitude of the highest Maumee beach is 775 to 780 feet (236 to 238 m) at the head of the outlet in the vicinity of Fort Wayne and New Haven, Ind. [3] To the northeast, 50 to 75 miles (80 to 121 km), along the Ohio and Michigan state line, it is 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 m) higher. In West Unity and Fayette, Ohio, the beach is at 801 and 798 feet (244 and 243 m). The strong beach is generally above 800 feet (240 m)and at a few points rises to 810 and 812 feet (247 and 247 m).[3]
Table I
Lake Maumee – High Beach
City/County State Altitude
Ann Arbor area Michigan 795 to 805 feet (242 to 245 m)
north of Birmingham [3] Michigan 800 to 810 feet (240 to 250 m)
16 miles (26 km) north of Washington[3] Michigan 820 feet (250 m)
Clinton River[3] Michigan 810 feet (250 m)
Imlay[3] Michigan 850 feet (260 m)
Goodland Township, Lapeer County, 6 miles (9.7 km) north of Imlay[3] Michigan 855 feet (261 m)

On the south side of Lake Maumee the highest beach 775 and 785 feet (236 and 239 m) from Fort Wayne to Cleveland. The maps show it to be 810 and 812 feet (247 and 247 m) from Delphos to Findlay. [3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Glacial Formations and Drainage Features Erie and Ohio Basins; Chapter XIV; The Glacial Lake Maumee; Frank Leverett; Government Printing Office; Washington, D.C.; 1902; pg 710-740
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Publication 9. Geological Series 7; Surface Geology and Agricultural Conditions of the Southern Peninsula of Michigan; Frank Leverett with a Chapter on Climate by C. F. Schneider; Michigan Geological and Biological Survey Lansing, Michigan, 1911
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h The Pleistocene of Indiana and Michigan, History of the Great Lakes; Chapter XIII, Glacial Lake Maumee; Frank B. Taylor; Monographs of the United States Geological Survey, Vol LIII; Frank Leverett and Frank B. Taylor; Washington, D.C,; Government Printing Office; 1915
  • Geology and Geomorphology of Glacial Lake Maumee
  • Formation of the Great Lakes
  • Glacial Lakes in Michigan
  • The Quaternary of Northern Ohio: An Outline
  • Geological Formation of the Great Lakes
  • Hansen, Michael C., The Teays River: Ohio Division of Geological Survey GeoFacts No. 10
  • Forsyth, Jane L., The Beach Ridges of Northern Ohio, Columbus: Ohio Division of Geological Survey Information Circular 25, 1959, pp. 1–4 (of ten pages) (out of print).

External links

  • Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor

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