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Missoula Flood: Professor speaks about controversy

Dr. Vic Baker, professor emeritus, University of Arizona, Tucson, will speak Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. at the Hood River Library about the controversy that J. Harlen Bretz encountered with his idea of a giant flood creating the scablands of eastern Washington.

This program, hosted by the Gorge chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute, is free and open to the public.

Baker will give a Powerpoint presentation about his research on the flow dynamics of the Ice Age Floods using the measurements of the size and spacing of the flood deposits.

This groundbreaking work showed that Bretz’s idea of huge, turbulent flows of water made sense physically as the origin of the Channeled Scablands.

Baker once met and consulted with Dr. Bretz about his original hypothesis of a gigantic flood. In the early 1920s, Professor J. Harlen Bretz had developed an idea that during the last Ice Age an immense flood, which he named the “Spokane Flood,” had emanated from the margins of the great ice sheet that then covered much of North America. The geological community in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s largely resisted this concept, despite Bretz’s eloquent arguments and field evidence in its favor.

Resolution of this controversy came gradually over the decades, initially through the recognition by J.T. Pardee of a plausible source of the flood waters: ice-dammed Pleistocene glacial Lake Missoula in northern Idaho and western Montana.

Eventually, by the late 1960s, the field evidence for cataclysmic flooding became overwhelming and physical processes were found to be completely consistent with that evidence. The controversy is of special interest for showing how science is very much a human enterprise and that enterprise depends on a special attitude taken toward the natural world by scientists.

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