The Quaternary of Northern Ohio: An Outline


To understand how Lake Erie formed in northern Ohio it is important to first analyze the advances and retreats glaciers made in this region during the Pleistocene epoch. It was glaciers which helped to carve out the Erie basin and control its initial drainage and water level.

Click here to see Diagram 1: Glacial Deposits of Northeastern Ohio and Northwestern Pennsylvania

I. Stages of sediment representing major advances and retreats of ice

A. Pre-Illinoian stage

1. Nebraskan glacial stage

2. Aftonian inerglacial stage

3. Kansan glacial stage

4. Yarmouth interglacial stage

5. Little evidence for these stages can be found although there is a deeply weathered, greenish gray non-calcareous drift exposed in the strip mines of the Carbon Limestone Co. and Michigan Limestone Co. near Youngstown

B. Illinoian glacial stage

1. Evidence

a. Includes an east to west belt of drift exposed at the surface from the PA line in Columbiana county, west to Canton Township in Stark county

b. Also occurs in patches to the west and north of the belt beneath Wisconsin drift  

2. The drift itself consists of thin, discontinuous till that is rarely more than several feet and kame gravels up to forty feet thick. It's brown-gray, well-rounded, medium to fine grained with sand lenses

3. Consists of two phases

a. Inner phase-an olive brown color

b. Outer phase

C. Sangamon interglacial stage

1. Erosion during the Wisconsin removed a lot of it

2. Fossil gastropods found at the Garfield Heights pit indicate cooler summers at this time than present

D. Wisconsin glacial stage

1. Two lobes formed because of the topography

a. Killbuck lobe is the western segment that moved southeast between the high land in Richland County and the Summit-Geavga County upland

b. Grand River lobe in the east advanced south through the Grand River lowland

2. Early Wisconsin

a. Mogadore till (olive to yellow-brown, sandy) most likely canidate

b. expoosed in a "window" around Akron

3. Late Wisconsin

a. Brown silty clay

b. Coincided with earliest high lake levels

4. Five readvances of the ice are recorded by distinct till sheets

5. This last ice is represented by the brown silty clay till left between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago when the Great Lakes started their history

Click here to see Diagram 2: Correlation of Lake Phases and Ice Barriers in the Lake Erie Basin

II. Ancestral Great Lakes whose levels are recorded in a series of beach ridges and shore line features which occur above and below the present level of Lake Erie

A. Highest Lake Maumee (Maumee I)

1. Initiated after the Hiram glacial retreated from the Fort Wayne Moraine during the late Wisconsin

2. Stabilized at 800 ft. (244m)

3. Drainage was westward at Fort Wayne

4. Expansion northward towards Imlay with ice-marginal retreat was interrupted by a glacial readvance whose moraine covers the lake's clayey deposits

B. Lowest Lake Maumee (Maumee II)

1. May have been third rather than second in the Maumee sequence

2. Established after the Fort Wayne outlet is abandoned and a broad westward outlet is opened somewhat north of the present Imlay channel as the ice margin retreats northward

3. Stabilized at 760 ft. (232m)

C. Middle Late Maumee (Maumee III)

1. Established when a glacial readvance shifts the outlet upslope to the present position of the more narrow Imlay outlet to the Grand Valley

2. Stabilized at 780 ft. (238m)

D. Lake Arkona

1. Evolved when ice margin retreated far enough north in Michigan to permit the lakes in the southern parts of Lake Erie and Lake Huron Basins to join each other

2. Three distinguished beaches representing fluctuations in the lake

a. Highest at 710 ft. (216m)-gravelly and barely recognizable

b. Middle at 700 ft (213m)

c. Lowest at 695 ft. (212m)

1) gravel stiffened by clay

2) expanded with the ice retreated beyond Buffalo, NY and it drained across the Niagra escarpment

3. Arkona beaches in Ohio are poorly developed and discontinuous

4. Arkona waters merged with Early Lake Saginaw and then drained westward through the glacial Grand Valley to Glenwwood I phase, Lake Chicago

The Arkona-Whittlesey transition occurs about 13,000 years before present

E. Lake Whittlesey

1. Formed during the Port Huron readvance

2. Waters rose to 740 ft. (226m)

3. Westward drainage through a spillway at Ulby, Michigan to Lake Saginaw

4. Strands are among the strongest and best developed and are found as a strong single ridge or bluff almost everywhere

F. Lake Warren and Wayne

1. Warren developed as the ice margin retreated from the outermost Port Huron moraine north of Ulby, Michigan (this represents the last and most extensive of major Great Lakes glacial phases to occupy the Erie basin)

2. Levels of the lakes

a. Warren I-685 ft. (209m)

b. Warren II-675 ft. (206m)

c. Wayne at 660 ft. (201m)

d. Warren III-670 ft. (204m)

3. Warren beaches are more sandy and less gravelly than Lake Whittelesey and are associated with windblown deposits

4. Wayne beach cannot be systematically traced

G. Lake Grassmere and Lundy (Elkton)

1. Formed after the ice-marginal retreat in central NY and opening of the Guppy Gulf channel just west of Syracuse, NY

2. Levels of the lakes

a. Grassmere at 640 ft. (195m)

b. Lundy at 620 ft. (189m)

3. Drainage was eastward via the Marcellus-Cedarvale channels near Syracuse, NY to the Mohawk River Valley

H. Early Algonquin

1. Level was at 605 ft. (184m)

2. Small, discontinuous and weak beaches

I. Post lake Lundy, proglacial lakes existed very briefly as northward retreat of ice margin caused lake surfaces to fall below the level of the Niagra escarpment for the last time

J. Early Lake Erie

1. Began with removal of the direct glacial influence

2. Early lake to present lake had fluctuations in water level which were controlled by varying inflow via Port Huron and the effects of the decelerating rebound of the threshold at Buffalo

3. Possibly consisted of an eastward descending and deepening series of up to three lakes that were 15, 30, and 4 meters below present lake

4. Uplift at Buffalo brought lake levels -20m of even and -10m in all the sub-lakes by 10,500 years before present

5. Levels also slowed at this time as ice retreat opened a direct eastward discharge to the St. Lawrence basin for the upper Great Lakes

6. 5,000 years BP: return of drainage from the uper Great Lakes corresponding to the Lake Nipioing phase in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron Basins

7. 3,500 years BP: level is -4m

8. 2,000 years BP: lake levels possibly 5m above present

9. Present Lake Erie at 570 ft. (174m)