BOOKS: Cataclysms on the Columbia & Bretz’s Flood

I’ve posted before about the graphic novel Terra Tempo: Ice Age Cataclysm! where three kids time-traveled into the Ice Age of 15,000 years ago and “came across prehistoric mammals and witnessed the grand Missoula Flood, caused when a gigantic ice dam burst and Glacial Lake Missoula (in Montana) drained, its gushing torrent flowing west and sculpting the channeled scablands of the Pacific Northwest.” This is no mere fictional story, but sound geology. It’s an interesting story historically, and there are two books that cover the science and the people who figured it out. Although for adults, these books could assist in doing a relevant geology lesson for folks living in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps with your child reading the graphic novel.

John Eliot Allen, Marjorie Burns, and Scott Burns, Cataclysms on the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods (Portland, OR: Ooligan Press, 2009), 216 pp.

Cataclysms on the Columbia tells two stories. One follows geological research that challenged the scientific paradigm of the early 20th century, and the other chronicles the result of that research: the discovery of powerful prehistoric floods that shaped the Pacific Northwest. The cataclysms at the end of the last Ice Age left a scabland of buttes, dry falls, and rocky gorges, but it took the detective work of geologist J Harlen Bretz to prove it to the world. His lifetime of research and unshakeable belief changed geology forever.

John Soennichsen, Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2008),  289 pp.

The land between Idaho and the Cascade Mountains is characterized by gullies, coulees, and deserts–in geologic terms, it is a wholly unique place on the earth. Legendary geologist J Harlen Bretz, starting in the 1920s, was the first to explore the area. Bretz, a former science teacher at Franklin High School in Seattle and then a professor at the University of Washington and later the University of Chicago, eventually formed the theory that the land was scoured in a virtual instant by a massive flood. His original thinking was rewarded with various forms of public and academic humiliation. In the mid-twentieth century, his theory sounded a bit too much like the biblical flood, and the scientific world wanting nothing to do with that sort of idea. (Ironically, Bretz was an avowed atheist, so this was hardly his inspiration.) Bretz’s Flood tells the dramatic story of this scientific maverick-how he came to study the region, his radical theory that a huge flood created it, and how the mainstream geologic community campaigned to derail him from pursuing an idea that satellite photos would confirm decades later.

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