Shorelines of the upper Great Lakes include many embayments that contain strandplains of beach ridges. These former shoreline positions of the lakes can be used to determine changes in the elevation of the lakes through time, and they also provide information on the warping of the ground surface that is occurring in the Great Lakes after the weight of glacial ice was removed. Relative lake-level hydrographs can be created by coring the beach ridges to determine the elevation of basal foreshore (swash zone) deposits in each ridge and by obtaining radiocarbon dates of basal wetland sediments between ridges to generate an age model for the ridges. Because the relative-level hydrographs are the combination of lake-level change and vertical ground movement (isostatic rebound), the rebound must be removed to produce a graph that shows only the physical limits and timing of past lake-level fluctuations referenced to a common outlet. More than 500 vibracores of beach-ridge sediments were collected at five sites along Lake Michigan and four sites along Lake Superior. The cores showed a sequence of dune deposits overlying foreshore deposits that, in turn, overlie upper shoreface deposits. The base of the foreshore deposits is coarser and more poorly sorted than an overlying and underlying sediment and represents the plunge-point sediments at the base of the swash zone. The plunge-point deposits are a close approximation of the elevation of the lake when the beach ridge formed. More than 150 radiocarbon ages of basal wetland sediments were collected to produce age models for the sites. Currently, age models exist for all Lake Michigan sites and one Lake Superior site. By combining the elevation data with the age models, six relative lake-level hydrographs were created for the upper Great Lakes. An iterative approach was used to remove rebound from the five Lake Michigan relative hydrographs and merge the graphs into a single hydrograph. The resultant hydrograph shows long-term patterns of lake-level change for lakes Michigan and Huron and is referenced to the Port Huron outlet. When the age models are completed for the Lake Superior sites, a hydrograph will be created for the entire lake.
Additional publication details
Reconstructing paleo lake levels from relict shorelines along the Upper Great Lakes