The most accurate source of information on lake-level fluctuations in the Great Lakes is the historical record from lake-level gauges. Although it can be semiquantitatively extended back into the late 1700's, the historical record is too short to recognize long-term patterns of lake-level behavior. To extend the historical record, information must be obtained from the Great Lakes geologic record. Such information includes the elevation and age of geomorphic features and stratigraphic sequences. One of the longest geologic records of late Holocene lake-level variation is preserved in a beach-ridge complex along the southern shore of Lake Michigan called the Toleston Beach. This strandplain contains over 150 beach ridges that arc across northwestern Indiana and fan out into northeastern Illinois. Each ridge was formed during the fall from a high lake level, and the elevation of the foreshore deposits in each ridge provides information on the upper physical limit of lake level over the past 4000 years. Three scales of quasi-periodic lake-level variation were determined by radiocarbon-dating basal peats of wetlands between the ridges and by measuring the elevation of foreshore (swash) deposits within ridges. These three scales are: (1) a short-term and small-scale fluctuation of 25 to 35 years with a range of about 0.5 to 0.6 m; (2) an intermediate-term and meso-scale fluctuation of 140 to 160 years and a range of about 0.8 to 0.9 m; and (3) a long-term and large-scale fluctuation of 500 to 600 years and a range of 1.8 to 3.7 m. The short-term and intermediate-term fluctuations are reflected in the historical record. An increase in the rate of shoreline progradation from east to west across Indiana's shoreline causes differential preservation of the lake-level fluctuations. That is, groups of four to six ridges in the western part of the strandplain that formed in response to the small-scale fluctuations combine eastward into single ridges and groups of ridges representing the meso-scale fluctuations. The large-scale fluctuations produced the most dramatic response in the western part of the Toleston Beach. Here, following each high stand, individual spits prograded southward off of a bedrock headland. The successive spit extensions created several small lakes landward of the spits and started the 20 km eastward stream-mouth deflection of the Grand Calumet River across Indiana's western lakeshore. ?? 1992.
Additional publication details
Beach-ridge development and lake-level variation in southern Lake Michigan