Cosmogenic surface exposure ages of glacial boulders deposited in ice-marginal Lake Musselshell suggest that the lake existed between 20 and 11.5 ka during the Late Wisconsin glacial stage (MIS 2), rather than during the Late Illinoian stage (MIS 6) as traditionally thought. The altitude of the highest ice-rafted boulders and the lowest passes on the modern divide indicate that glacial lake water in the Musselshell River basin reached at least 920-930 m above sea level and generally remained below 940 m. Exposures of rhythmically bedded silt and fine sand indicate that Lake Musselshell is best described as a slackwater system, in which the ice-dammed Missouri and Musselshell Rivers rose and fell progressively throughout the existence of the lake rather than establishing a lake surface with a stable elevation. The absence of varves, deltas and shorelines also implies an unstable lake. The changing volume of the lake implies that the Laurentide ice sheet was not stable at its southernmost position in central Montana. A continuous sequence of alternating slackwater lake sediment and lacustrine sheetflood deposits indicates that at least three advances of the Laurentide ice sheet occurred in central Montana between 20 and 11.5 ka. Between each advance, it appears that Lake Musselshell drained to the north and formed two outlet channels that are now occupied by extremely underfit streams. A third outlet formed when the water in Lake Musselshell fully breached the Larb Hills, resulting in the final drainage of the lake. The channel through the Larb Hills is now occupied by the Missouri River, implying that the present Missouri River channel east of the Musselshell River confluence was not created until the Late Wisconsin, possibly as late as 11.5 ka. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Glacial Lake Musselshell: Late Wisconsin slackwater on the Laurentide ice margin in central Montana, USA