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Moosehead Lake and the Tale of Two Rivers
Later a smaller, localized crustal adjustment also occurred. A forebulge of material in the earth's upper mantle formed beyond the ice front, and followed the receding ice, moving from the coast to the interior. Analysis of relative sea level curves from the region shows passage of this bulge under the Maine coast at approximately 10,000 years ago, and beneath the Saint Lawrence Valley in Quebec at approximately 6,000 years ago (Barnhard and others, 1997; Dionne 1988). Work by Balco and others (1998), on the margins of Moosehead Lake, demonstrated tilting of the lake in response to the migration of the forebulge, and identified a now abandoned, northward draining outlet, connecting the lake with the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Currently, Moosehead Lake, the state's largest lake, drains to the south, into the Kennebec River. (Figure 2, Figure 3, and Figure 4)
Ground-penetrating radar was used to characterize the abandoned outlet, illustrating a bedrock channel, now filled with fresh water vegetation and peat. Radiocarbon dating of organic material from the base of the outlet suggests that it was abandoned approximately 9,000 years ago (Figure 5).
The change in river discharge and related transport of sediment is linked to the deposition and abandonment of the newly discovered Penobscot Paleodelta in central Penobscot Bay (Belknap and others, in press). The paleodelta consists of steeply dipping beds composed of sand and gravel, and is graded to a water depth of approximately 100 feet (30 m) below present sea level, suggesting formation at approximately 10,000 years ago. The paleodelta is covered by up to 33 feet (10 m) of mud, and has no surface expression on the sea floor. Cores taken from the mud deposits over the paleodelta contained shallow water organisms, Mya arenaria shells, indicative of a tidal flat environment after active deltaic deposition ceased. Radiocarbon dating of these shells places the end of delta growth prior to 8700 years ago (Barnhardt and others, 1997), correlative with the switch in outlets of Moosehead Lake from the Penobscot River to the Kennebec. (Figure 6 and Figure 7)
A large paleodelta has been identified at the mouth of the Kennebec River (Barnhardt and others, 1997). This feature has lobes associated with the lowstand elevation of approximately 200 ft (60 m) below current sea level, and is radiocarbon dated to circa 10,850 years ago. While the Kennebec Paleodelta continued to grow through the early Holocene, its final lobe was deposited circa 9000 years ago at an elevation of 66 feet (20 m) below present sea level and may represent a pulse of sediment driven by the Kennebec's enhanced discharge after gaining the contribution from the Moosehead Lake drainage basin (Figure 8).
Deposits in the upper Kennebec Valley may also be linked to the outlet switch of Moosehead Lake. In the upper Kennebec River Valley, Borns and Hagar (1964) mapped glacial-marine mud (the Presumpscot Formation) (Figure 9) and sandy silt (Embden Formation) (Figure 10). These units respectively represent glaciomarine deposits overlain by shallower water sediment as sea level fell relative to land rebound. A younger sand and gravel deposit (North Anson Formation) (Figure 11) unconformably rests on an eroded surface of the Embden and Presumpscot Formations, and caps terraces incised into these units. Borns and Hager recognized that this deposit clearly represented a "change in regime" (1964, p. 1246), and identified the North Anson Formation as outwash deposited by melting of a late Pleistocene ice mass on the basis of "meager evidence" (Borns and Hager, p. 1248). In a comparison of the Kennebec and Penobscot Valleys, they note the similarity of the surficial geology of the two valleys "...with the exception of a late-glacial influx of a definite stratigraphic equivalent of the North Anson Formation" in the Penobscot Valley (Borns and Hager, 1964, p. 1247). The North Anson Formation may represent sediments mobilized by water associated with the establishment of the southern Moosehead Lake Outlet, when high discharge combined with an ample supply of sediment lead to the deposition of the coarse-grained deposit. The deposits in the Penobscot Valley are absent because that drainage basin lost, rather than gained, discharge at this time.
Another implication of the shift of the drainage basins is the local and regional effect on human populations. Changing patterns of human settlement associated with lake tilting have been demonstrated in Sweden (Bergman and others, 2003), and may well also apply to Moosehead. Prior to abandonment, the northern outlet of Moosehead Lake provided a water-related transportation link from a large river basin to a major lake. With cessation of flow in the outlet and accompanying vegetation changes, this once important route would become more difficult to traverse, and perhaps, diminish in importance, affecting regional settlement patterns. Large-scale changes associated with crustal adjustment have the potential to affect other lakes and streams in the region, altering stream catchment areas, flow directions, and creating lakes. These resource-rich environments would be attractive to ancient people, but are obscured by the present day landscape.
Balco, G., Belknap, D., and Kelley, J.T., 1998, Glacioisotasy and lake-level change at Moosehead Lake: Quaternary Research, v. 49, p. 157-170.
Barnhardt, W.A., and Kelley, J.T., 1995, Carbonate accumulation on the inner continental shelf of Maine: a modern consequence of late Quaternary glaciation and sea-level change: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. A65, p. 195-207.
Barnhardt, W.A., Belknap, D.F., and Kelley, J.T., 1997, Sequence stratigraphy of submerged river-mouth deposits in the northwestern Gulf of Maine: Responses to relative sea-level changes: Geological Society of America, Bulletin, v. 109, p. 612-630.
Belknap, D.F., Gontz, A.M., and Kelley, J.T., in press. Paleodeltas and preservation potential on a paraglacial coast: Evolution of eastern Penobscot Bay, Maine, in Fitzgerald, D. M., and Knight, J. (editors), High Resolution Morphodynamics and Sedimentary Evolution of Estuaries: Kluwer Academic Publishing (in press).
Bergman, I., Passe, T., Olofsson, A., Zackrisson, O., Hornberg, G., Hellberg, E., and Bohlin, E., 2003, Isostatic land uplift and Mesolithic landscapes: Lake-tilting, a key to the discovery of Mesolithic sites in the interior of Northern Sweden: Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 30, p. 1451-1458.
Borns, H.W., and Hager, D.J., 1964, Late-glacial stratigraphy of a northern part of the Kennebec river Valley, western Maine: Geological Society of America, Bulletin, v. 76, p. 1233-1250.
Dionne, J. C., 1988. Holocene relative sea-level fluctuations in the St. Lawrence estuary, Québec, Canada: Quaternary Research, 29: 233-244.
Originally published on the web as the June 2005 Site of the Month.
Last updated on October 6, 2005
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