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Volume 21 Issue 9 (September 2011)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 7-9 | Full Text | PDF (161KB)

Landscape evolution in south-central Minnesota and the role of geomorphic history on modern erosional processes

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Karen B. Gran1*, Patrick Belmont2, Stephanie S. Day3, Noah Finnegan4, Carrie Jennings5, J. Wesley Lauer6, Peter R. Wilcock7

1 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, 2 3rd Ave. SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414, USA, and Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Minnesota, 1049 University Drive, Duluth, Minnesota 55812, USA
2 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics and Dept. of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322, USA
3 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics and Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota, 310 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA
4 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics and Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA
5 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics and Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota, 310 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA, and Minnesota Geological Survey, 2642 University Ave. W, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114, USA
6 Dept. of Civil Engineering, Seattle University, 901 12th Ave., Seattle, Washington 98122, USA
7 National Center for Earth-Surface Dynamics, and Dept. of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA

PREFACE: (open/close)
Special 2011 Annual Meeting–Themed Science Article Section

In a departure from GSA Today’s usual single lead science article format, the following four articles are meant to familiarize you with the span of geologic time represented in the Upper Midwest and the expertise of its geoscience community as we prepare to assemble at the Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. These articles also emphasize the critical role geologists are being asked to play in a society that is increasingly focused on sustainable resource use and the long-term resilience of the planet.

The first two papers treat geologic events from opposite ends of the timeline as a controlled experiment that can be studied to help understand, and thereby forecast, system responses. The latter two speak directly to our role in society.

The EarthScope USArray is currently deployed in Minnesota. Seth Stein and colleagues describe how the information coming in regarding the failed, 1.1-Ga midcontinent rift, frozen in time, will provide a way to test the two leading theories about the fundamental cause of rifting.

Next, Karen Gran and colleagues describe Holocene valley evolution. A well-constrained downcutting event is driving continuing adjustment on tributaries to the Minnesota River, the history of which has a strong influence on modern sediment loads and direct resource-management implications.

Ken Bradbury and Tony Runkel, geologists with two state surveys, partnered up for the third article, which examines how the mechanical behavior of Paleozoic rocks affects groundwater flow systems. This information is critical for sustainable groundwater use in the face of challenges ranging from the presence of live viruses deep beneath Madison, Wisconsin, USA, to evolving cones of depression that change hydraulic gradients.

Finally, Cathy Manduca introduces readers to the process of producing an educated citizenry (and a well-prepared geoscience community) that understands the ways that Earth and society are linked. The article also illustrates the need to act collectively to share experiences, develop them into classroom activities, and accurately diagnose student challenges.

Carrie Jennings, Minnesota Geological Survey
Vice Chair, 2011 Annual Meeting Organizing Committee


The Minnesota River Valley was carved during catastrophic drainage of glacial Lake Agassiz at the end of the late Pleistocene. The ensuing base-level drop on tributaries created knickpoints that excavated deep valleys as they migrated upstream. A sediment budget compiled in one of these tributaries, the Le Sueur River, shows that these deep valleys are now the primary source of sediment to the Minnesota River. To compare modern sediment loads with pre-European settlement erosion rates, we analyzed incision history using fluvial terrace ages to constrain a valley incision model. Results indicate that even though the dominant sediment sources are derived from natural sources (bluffs, ravines, and streambanks), erosion rates have increased substantially, due in part to pervasive changes in watershed hydrology.

Manuscript received 28 Feb. 2011; accepted 29 Apr. 2011

DOI: 10.1130/G121A.1