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Basaltic lava erupts at nearly 2,000 degrees and is the most common rock in the world.


Express Tour - Section I

Fire & Ice Set the Stage for Ice Age Floods

Summary of the spectacular catastrophic floods that raged through eastern Washington and the Columbia Gorge at the end of the most recent Ice Age

USGS Photo of lava flow advancing over the coastal plain of KÓlauea in Hawaii, United States.
USGS Image of Basaltic Lava advancing over the coastal plain of Kilauea in Hawaii. Most Hawaiian flows are less than three feet thick. Many of the Columbia River Basalt Group flows were more than 100 feet thick.


BEFORE THE ICE-AGE FLOODS CAME...THE LAVA FLOWED

Columbia River Basalt Group Map
Columbia River Basalt flows spread over large portions of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

About 17 million years ago floods of lava began coating the Columbia Basin of Washington--as well as northeast Oregon, and the Columbia Gorge region all the way to the Pacific Coast. Originating from hundreds of lengthy fissures in northeast Oregon, as many as 300 separate floods deposited thick lava beds over 60,000 square miles. The lava outbreaks ceased about 6 million years ago. Each lava flood cooled and hardened into dark basalt rock which accumulated to a mile in depth throughout much of the region.

Columbia River Basalt Dikes and Basaltic Lave Flow, USGS Image
Basalt Dikes (left) and Basaltic Lave Flow (Hawaii)


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GLOBAL COOLING THEN BRINGS AN ONSLAUGHT OF ICE-AGE GLACIERS

Glacial Ice USGS Image.

Between 2 million and 2.5 million years ago a combination of cooler temperatures and increased precipitation formed massive ice sheets which repeatedly advanced and retreated as climate conditions fluctuated. Ice coated the Puget Sound lowlands, and most of the mountain regions of northern Washington, Idaho and Montana. So much glacial ice existed that the oceans were 300 feet lower than they are today. The final episode was the Wisconsin glaciation, a cycle that took place from 100,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago.




Ice Age Floods Express Tour: Continue

Section I
Lava Flows
Ice Age
Section II
Ice Dam
Lake Missoula
Section III
Scabland Floods
Wallula Gap
Section IV
Columbia Gorge
To the Pacific
Section V
Evidence
Solving the Mystery


Columbia River Basalt in Drumheller Channels, shaped by the Ice Age Floods.

All photos by Tom Foster unless otherwise noted.

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