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Lake level variability in Silver Lake, Michigan: a response to fluctuations in lake levels of Lake Michigan.


Sediment from Silver Lake, Michigan, can be used to constrain the timing and elevation of Lake Michigan during the Nipissing transgression. Silver Lake is separated from Lake Michigan by a barrier/dune complex and the Nipissing, Calumet, and Glenwood shorelines of Lake Michigan are expressed landward of this barrier. Two Vibracores were taken from the lake in February 2000 and contain pebbly sand, sand, buried soils, marl, peat, and sandy muck. It is suggested here that fluctuations in the level of Lake Michigan are reflected in Silver Lake since the Chippewa low phase, and possibly at the end of the Algonquin phase. An age of 12,490 B.P. (10,460[+ or -]50 [.sup.14]C yrs B.P.) on wood from a buried Entisol may record the falling Algonquin phase as the North Bay outlet opened. A local perched water table is indicated by marl deposited before 7,800 B.P. and peat between 7,760-7,000 B.P. when Lake Michigan was at the low elevation Chippewa phase. Continued deepening of the lake is recorded by the transition from peat to sandy muck at 7,000 B.P. in the deeper core, and with the drowning of an Inceptisol nearly 3 m higher at 6,410 B.P. in the shallower core. A rising groundwater table responding to a rising Lake Michigan base level during the Nipissing transgression, rather than a response to mid-Holocene climate change, explains deepening of Silver Lake. Sandy muck was deposited continually in Silver Lake between Nipissing and modern time. Sand lenses within the muck are presumed to be eolian in origin, derived from sand dunes advancing into the lake on the western side of the basin.


Qualitative analysis of former Lake Michigan embayments along the western coastline of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan relied upon geomorphic principles (e.g., Scott and Dow 1937). With only relative dating control, the absolute age of specific landforms and lake stages were not known. This paper presents preliminary results from coring in Silver Lake, Michigan (Figures 1 and 2), that establish a chronology for the Silver Lake embayment. The initial intent of the coring was to establish a chronological framework for the dunes on the west side of Silver Lake by dating loess within lacustrine sediment; but much to our surprise, instead of loess, we encountered buried soils, peat, and marl (Loope and Fisher 2000). These sediments indicate that the hydrological conditions within the Silver Lake basin have varied considerably since deglaciation and are the focus of this paper. We also test the hypothesis that captured lakes along the Lake Michigan coastline preserve records of fluctuating late Pleistocene and Holocene levels of Lake Michigan.


Regional Deglaciation and Proglacial Lakes

During recession of the Michigan Lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet~14,000 B.P., glacial Lake Chicago was impounded between the ice margin and the Valparaiso Moraine, the later making up the subcontinental drainage divide. The Chicago outlet, cut to bedrock through the Valparaiso Moraine, controlled lake level during both the Glenwood and Calumet phases of Lake Chicago (see review by Hansel et al. 1985) when the glacier was south of the Straits of Mackinac. The Calumet level, dated between 11.8 and 11.2 ka [.sup.14]C yrs B.P. (Hansel et al. 1985), was controlled by the Chicago outlet when ice again covered the Straits of Mackinac at the northern end of Lake Michigan. After the Calumet phase, the Kirkfield phase in the Michigan basin became confluent with the main level of Lake Algonquin in the Huron basin. Because strand lines are not abundant along Lake Michigan, some have suggested that the Kirkfield water plane lay below modern lake level. Hansel et al. (1985) conclude that the elevation of the Algonquin phase in the Lake Michigan basin (i.e., Kirkfield) lay below the elevation of the Nipissing phases at the southern end of Lake Michigan when the Fenelon Falls outlet in Ontario was open. Recently however, Capps (2002) further documents a strandline in northwestern Indiana between the Calumet and Nipissing beach initially described by Chrzastowski and Thompson (1994) as Algonquin in age. His conclusion is based on radiocarbon, geomorphological, and sedimentological evidence. Lake Algonquin dropped episodically as lower outlets were uncovered with continued ice recession resulting in a series of short-lived lakes until the North Bay outlet was deglaciated. The lower North Bay outlet was deglaciated by 10.5 (Lewis et al. 1994) or 10.3 ka yrs [.sup.14]C B.P. (Larsen 1994), causing Lakes Huron and Michigan to eventually drop 80 m lower than their modern levels (Colman et al. 1994), initiating the Chippewa phase in Lake Michigan. The 80 m lake level drop was not instantaneous, but incremental, responding to incision through moraines along the North Bay outlet to the Ottawa River (Lewis and Anderson 1989; Lewis et al. 1994), and had occurred by 10.1 ka [.sup.14]C yrs B.P. (Lewis et al. 1994).


Post-Glacial Lakes

The "Nipissing transgression" designates the slow rise of Lake Michigan from the Chippewa low phase to the Nipissing I high phase at ~6300 cal yrs B.P. (Lewis 1969, 1970; Terasmae 1979). The transgression was a result of differential isostatic rebound of the North Bay outlet, causing locations south of the outlet to experience a lake level rise. The transgression rate is poorly constrained; the best data is from the Olsen site, a drowned forest in 52 m of water in the southern basin of Lake Michigan (Chrzastowski et al. 1991). Four radiocarbon dates from in situ stumps average 8,285 [.sup.14]C yrs B.P. or 9400 cal yrs B.P. and constrain the Nipissing transgression at this time assuming that the forest was drowned by rising ancestral Lake Michigan. Although the Olsen site is not on the same isobase as Silver Lake, additional data points from Silver Lake (this study) can be added to the Lake Michigan lake level curve to better reconstruct the Nipissing transgression.

The origin of many "embayed" or "captured" lakes along the coastlines of the upper Great Lakes (e.g., Fisher and Whitman 1999) can be attributed to the growth of barriers during Nipissing time. These coastal lakes offer minimal logistical difficulties to reconstruct lake level history of the Great Lakes compared to ship-based drilling on the Great Lakes themselves.

Study Area and Methodology

Silver Lake is located at Little Sable Point along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, set within the Port Huron Moraine (Figure 1; Hansel et al. 1985; Taylor 1990). The Silver Lake basin and a series of terraces above the lake lie within a small bight cut into the upland (Figure 1). The origin of the small bight is uncertain. It may represent incision by a meltwater stream during ice recession from the Port Huron Moraine position, or it may represent an escarpment associated with the Glenwood level of glacial Lake Chicago. Taylor (1990) mapped strandlines along the coastline with a maximum water plane of 210 m, which corresponds well with the uppermost terrace at about 207 m asl (Figure 2).


A gasoline-powered vibracorer was used to recover two cores from the lake bottom in February 2000 (Figure 3). Equipment used is similar to that described by Smith (1992, 1998). See Glew et al. (2001) for a recent review of vibracoring, Thompson et al. (1991) for additional information, and Fisher (in press) for a modified lake-ice vibracoring system. Core SL00-1 was recovered from 4.2 m of water and SL00-2 from 6.4 m (Figures 1 and 2). The cores were capped in the field, opened and described in the lab (Figure 4). Core-top elevations (Figure 4) likely include an error of 1-2 m due to sediment compaction or bypassing. AMS radiocarbon ages (Table 1) are reported in calendar years (B.P.) unless otherwise indicated.



Core SL00-1 (Figure 4) consists primarily of well-sorted, medium-grained sand (units a, d, f, Figure 4). Units b and e are soil A/O-horizons composed of humus and woody material. Unit b mineral material consists of medium-grained sand with some small pebbles and is overlain by unit c that consists of medium- to coarse-grained sand. A 12,490 B.P. age on wood from the uppermost part of the soil is Algonquin age. Beneath the upper buried soil (unit e) roots are present, and the sand is mottled with iron staining indicative of a Bw horizon. A 6,410 B.P. age on wood from this soil predates the peak Nipissing I transgression. The uppermost unit (f) is gray, likely reflecting the overlying muck that was not recovered during coring.

Core SL00-2 (Figure 4) was taken from deeper water and consists offour very different units. The lowest unit (a) is a pebbly medium-grained sand. Above the pebbly sand is light-gray marl with gastropod shells in the upper half (unit b) and abundant Najas flexilis (Naiad) seeds. At the top of the unit there are a few laminae of peat. Unit c above the marl is a spongy, massive, black fibrous peat. Radiocarbon ages from 0.5 cm thick slices of peat from the base and top of this unit are 7,760 B.P. and 7,000 B.P., respectively. The resulting sedimentation rate is 10.7 cm/100 yr for the peat, but this should be considered a minimum value because of core compression or sediment bypassing. Thompson et al. (1991) also report significant compression when coring peat. Above the peat is medium-to very-fine, sandy organic-rich mud (unit d) with a 5 cm thick transitional lower contact with the peat. The muck is massive, organic rich, and greasy. The upper 20 cm of the muck is dark gray with fine-grained sand.


The lower soil in core SL00-1 with the small pebbles is likely developed into littoral sediment and may be covered by more littoral sediment as indicated by the coarser sand of unit c. Assuming that the wood dated at 12,490 B.P. (10,460[+ or -]50 [.sup.14]C yrs B.P.) has not been reworked, then it records burial of an Entisol at that time. The evidence for a buried Inceptisol in the upper section of core SL00-1 is iron staining below the A-horizon. Medium sand and "unrecovered" muck above the soil in 4.2 m of water indicates that a rise in lake level drowned the Inceptisol at 6,400 B.P., just before Lake Michigan reached its Nipissing I peak.

The data in core SL00-2 also records changes in water level. Pebbly sand (unit a) is interpreted as either a fluvial or littoral sediment that is overlain by marl. The laminated marl of unit b reflects a shallow, likely sedge-dominated wetland (Crum 1992). Mineral-rich water can be explained from surface and groundwater streams originating from the adjacent Port Huron Moraine. The Silver Lake water table was perched above Lake Michigan by clay beneath marl (Fisher et al. 2003). The transition to a massive peat at 7,800 B.P., marked by a thin transition zone, was likely a result of paludification or lake filling. Once organic matter began to accumulate in the basin, it became impermeable, and the water chemistry became more acidic and nutrient deficient; all of which favor growth of sphagnum and development of a bog (cf. Crum 1992). The shallow water is also indicated by the presence of sand and lack of marl or peat in the nearby SL00-1 core at most 3 m higher. The bog lasted for about 750 years until the water table rose at about 7,000 B.P. converting the bog to the modern lake. The sandy muck of unit d represents sedimentation in the lake after 7,000 B.P.

Since 7,000 B.P., the flooding of the bog sediment in SL00-2 and burial of the upper soil in SL00-1 at 6,400 B.P. are considered evidence for a rising lake level in the Silver Lake basin. It now becomes important to determine if lakelevel change was in response to the local hydrology of Silver Lake or in response to the rising level of Lake Michigan during the Nipissing transgression.


The presence of high strandlines on the bluffs above Silver Lake suggests that this former embayment should have within it sediment associated with Lake Michigan. While such sediment was not recorded in the two cores discussed here, subsequent deeper coring at an adjacent coring site (Fisher et al. 2003) encountered clay that was interpreted as the Lake Michigan Formation (Colman et al. 1994). In that core, the Lake Michigan Formation, beneath marl sediment, was associated with a minimum radiocarbon date of 13,480 B.P. (11,560[+ or -]50 [.sup.14]C B.P.). The clay data and the higher shorelines to the east indicate that the Silver Lake basin was once a part of Lake Michigan, and that cores from Silver Lake can aid in reconstructing past lake levels of Lake Michigan. The age of the large barrier/dune complex west of Silver Lake is likely Nipissing in age, because similar geomorphic features along the Michigan coast at this elevation and location are Nipissing in age (e.g., Dorr and Eschmann 1970), but confirmation requires future work involving geophysical surveys coupled with coring.

It is often assumed that highly permeable barrier/dune complexes separating lakes such as Silver Lake from Lake Michigan are not significant hydrologic barriers. Wolin (1996) made this assumption for Lower Herring Lake about 100 km further north in a similar geomorphic environment. However, Shedlock et al. (1993) documented a groundwater divide in the dunes between Lake Michigan and the Great Marsh in northern Indiana. This divide precludes a simple flow-through model and explains the elevation difference between captured lakes and Lake Michigan. However, increases in Lake Michigan will cause the regional groundwater table and other linked groundwater tables to rise, thus the actual elevation in the captured lake may not correspond with Lake Michigan's, but the relative changes should. Moreover, the modern differences between the lakes can be used to "correct" the embayed lakes elevation to represent Lake Michigan's elevation. Presently, the level of Silver Lake is artificially kept about 1.5 m above Lake Michigan and a piecemeal record of Silver Lake elevations could not be correlated with meteorological data or the elevation of Lake Michigan because of the unreliability of the Silver Lake data.

The elevation of the lowest strandline east of Silver Lake at 183 m asl implies that it is Nipissing in age. Presumably, Silver Lake was wider than its present 1.5 km to develop a longer fetch distance to create the scarp. Alternatively the scarp is Algonquin in age. The organic-rich sediments within the Silver Lake basin do not show a break in deposition from sometime before 7,760 B.P., implying that the Silver Lake was not an embayment of Lake Michigan during the Nipissing phase. And that some type of barrier existed between these two water bodies, perhaps a barrier/dune system migrating upslope during the Nipissing transgression. Thus, the water level in Silver Lake must have risen in concert with Lake Michigan if a barrier/dune complex existed. We now discuss the significance of the Algonquin aged soil in core SL00-1, then test the assumption that the sediments in Silver Lake record lake levels in Lake Michigan by plotting the Silver Lake data on a Lake Michigan hydrograph.

The oldest date in core SL00-1 of 12,490 B.P. (10,460 [.sup.14]C B.P.) is Algonquin age and compares well with 10,654 [.sup.14]C B.P. the average of 5 Algonquin age dates from Thompson (1990) and Capps (2002). Assuming that rebound has been greater to the north and that Capps and Thompson (2002) are correct that the Algonquin shoreline is recorded just below the Calumet level, then the water level in the Silver Lake embayment at ~178.5 m asl should have been 10 m deeper than at present. The only possible sediment record of the Algonquin shore found in the cores is the pebbly sand of unit b with the soil A-horizon (core SL00-1, Figure 4). Because the drop from the Alqonquin (or Kirkfield) to the Chippewa phase was episodic over a period of a few hundred years, the Entisol (unit b) may record landscape stability following a lake-lowering event with subsequent soil burial by fluvial or eolian activity. If Silver Lake was flooded during Algonquin time, then the marl in core SL00-2 must post-date Algonquin time, but the date of 13,480 B.P. from Fisher et al. (2003) suggests that the marl may be as old as 13,400 B.P. assuming the wood is not reworked. Unfortunately, the data from Silver Lake does not unequivocally record paleolevels of the Algonquin phase; additional and deeper cores are required.

The upper soil in core SL00-1 is better developed than the lower soil and was buried by the rising modern lake. The Nipissing I peak age of the buried soil (6410 B.P.) can be used to constrain the Nipissing transgression of Lake Michigan because its age and elevation are known (point #1 on Figure 5). The drowned forest at the Olsen site at 152 m elevation and dated at 9,400 B.P. constrains the transgression further back in time, but since it has undergone relatively less rebound, i.e., is on a more southern isobase, its elevation should be considered a minimum when compared with the Silver Lake data.


The sediment in core SL00-2 more clearly represents fluctuations in water level. The age of 7,760 B.P. at the base of the peat records a change in wetland hydrology. The relatively rapid switch from marl to peat appears to record a threshold of paludification of the wetland, and may not reflect changes in groundwater levels associated with regional climate. Holocene climate changes in the Great Lakes were recently discussed by Davis et al. (2000). At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore they report a warming annual temperature from 7,000-5,000 B.P. followed by a slight cooling after 5,000 B.P., and starting at 5,000 B.P. a slight increase in annual precipitation. Interestingly, the record in Silver Lake, 130 km south of Sleeping Bear Dunes shows a deepening water table during the time of warming as evidenced by the transition from a peat bog to a lake starting at 7,000 B.P. and continuing past 6,400 B.P. with drowning of a soil. Thus the Silver Lake record is one of lake deepening, which is explained as a geophysical response of isostatic rebound, overpowering any increased evaporation caused by the slight mid-Holocene warming recorded at Sleeping Bear Dunes.


The 7,760 B.P. age (point #3 on Figure 5) probably records a water table perched above the rising level of Lake Michigan (i.e., the Nipissing transgression). The rapid transition from peat to sandy organic-rich mud at 7,000 B.P. (#2 on Figure 5) records the change from a bog to the modern lake. Because this point plots on the Lake Michigan hydrograph along the expected line, it is interpreted that, by this time, Lake Michigan was backfilling Silver Lake through either an outlet channel or records the rise in the regional groundwater table. The escarpment along the eastern side of Silver Lake at 183 m is interpreted to be a Nipissing strandline and records the highest elevation in the basin since Chippewa phase time. The sand within muck of unit d (core SL00-2) is most likely eolian in origin, trapped in the lake ice and subsequently introduced into the lake upon ice thawing. While coring, we observed sand on the lake ice, and local inhabitants talk about sand collecting in the lee of cottages on the eastern side of the lake during wintertime.

The history of Silver Lake at Little Sable Point is summarized in Figure 6. During the Glenwood and Calumet phases, glacial Lake Chicago flooded the embayment (Figure 6A). During Algonquin time, it is equivocal if Silver Lake was above ancestral Lake Michigan (e.g., Hansel et al. 1985) or submerged by ancestral Lake Michigan (Capps 2002). The barrier/dune complex at the west edge of Silver Lake was most likely forming during the Nipissing I transgression when Lake Michigan was approximately 3 m higher than the modern Silver Lake (Figure 6B). Shoreline progradation and eolian dune development has continued through to modern time (Figure 6C).


Sediment cores from Silver Lake record fluctuations in the level of Lake Michigan. An age of 10,460 [.sup.14]C yrs B.P. (12,490 B.P.) from a buried Entisol on a washed surface may record incremental opening of the North Bay outlet at the end of the Algonquin phase of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Transitions within the cores from peat and soils to sandy muck are interpreted as a response to a rising water table and lake deepening. The marl reflects a shallow wetland and the peat reflects paludification of the wetland on a water table perched above Lake Michigan during the Chippewa phase by the accumulation of organic matter. Once the elevation of Lake Michigan rose above the Silver Lake basin, Silver Lake would have deepened in concert with Lake Michigan to the level recorded by a Nipissing elevation scarp on the eastern side of Silver Lake. The elevation and age of the transition from peat to sandy muck at 7,000 B.P., and of a buried Inceptisol after 6,410 B.P., can be used to constrain the Nipissing transgression curve of Lake Michigan. This data also demonstrates a relatively simple methodology that can be used to recover data on pre-Nipissing elevations of Lake Michigan. Deeper coastal lake basins should extend the Lake Michigan lake level record further back in time.


Indiana University Northwest provided initial funding for this project. Without the generous assistance of the Silver Lake State Park, in particular Mr. Peter LundBorg, and the assistance with coring by Jim Adams, Bill Pierce, Andy LundBorg, and Chuck Stafford, this research could not have been completed. An insightful review by Dr. Todd Thompson and comments by an anonymous reviewer are gratefully appreciated. This article is Contribution 1119 of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center.


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Author:Fisher, Timothy G.; Loope, Walter L.
Publication:Michigan Academician
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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