Washington, Apr 29 (ANI): One of the largest fresh-water floods in Earth's history occurred about 17,000 years ago and inundated a large area of Alaska that is now occupied in part by the city of Wasilla, widely known because of the 2008 presidential campaign, a new research has revealed.
The event was one of at least four "megafloods" as Glacial Lake Atna breached ice dams and discharged water.
The lake covered more than 3,500 square miles in the Copper River Basin northeast of Anchorage and Wasilla.
The megaflood that covered the Wasilla region released as much as 1,400 cubic kilometers, or 336 cubic miles, of water, enough to cover an area the size of Washington, D.C., to a depth of nearly 5 miles.
The water volume drained from the lake in about a week and, at such great velocity, formed dunes higher than 110 feet, with at least a half-mile between crests.
The dunes appear on topographical maps but today are covered by roads, buildings and other development.
"Your mind doesn't get around dunes of that size. Obviously the water had to be very deep to form them," said Michael Wiedmer, an Anchorage native who is pursuing graduate studies in forest resources at the University of Washington, and lead author of a paper describing the Wasilla-area megaflood.
The megaflood from Glacial Lake Atna down what is now the Matanuska River to the Wasilla region might have had a flow of about 3 million cubic meters per second.
Another suspected Atna megaflood along a different course to the Wasilla region, down the Susitna River, might have had a flow of about 11 million cubic meters per second.
The researchers also found evidence for two smaller Atna megafloods, down the Tok and Copper rivers.
Wiedmer began the research in 2005 when he discovered pygmy whitefish living in Lake George, a glacial lake 50 miles from Anchorage.
The lake has essentially emptied numerous times in its history and was not thought to support much life.
Examination of physical traits indicate those fish are more closely related to pygmy whitefish in three other mountain lakes, all remnants of Lake Atna, than they are to any others of that species.
Their existence in Lake George, some distance from the other lakes, is one piece of evidence for a megaflood from Lake Atna.
"Lake Atna linked up with four distinct drainages, and we think that helped it act like a pump for freshwater organisms," he said.
The study has been published in the May edition of the journal Quaternary Research. (ANI)