The Grayling Fingers Geomorphic Region of Michigan: Soils, Sedimentology, Stratigraphy and Geomorphic Development

Randall J. Schaetzl, and Beth N. Weisenborn

This paper provides data on the landforms, soils, and sediments within a unique northern Michigan landscape known as the Grayling Fingers, and evaluates these data to develop various scenarios for the geomorphic development of this region. Composed of several large, flat-topped ridges that trend N–S, the physiography of the ‘‘Fingers’’ resembles a hand. Previously interpreted as ‘‘remnant moraines’’, the Grayling Fingers are actually a Pleistocene constructional landscape that was later deeply incised by glacial meltwater. The sediments that comprise the Fingers form a generally planar assemblage, with thick (>100 m), sandy glacial outwash forming the lowest unit. Above the outwash are several meters of till that is remarkably similar in texture to the outwash below; thus, the region is best described as an incised ground moraine. Finally, a thin silty ‘‘cap’’ is preserved on the flattest, most stable uplands. This sediment package and the physiography of the Fingers are suggestive of geomorphic processes not previously envisioned for Michigan. Although precise dates are lacking, we nonetheless present possible sequences of geomorphic/sedimentologic processes for the Fingers. This area was probably a topographic high prior to the advance of marine isotope stage 2 (Woodfordian) ice. Much of the glacial outwash in the Fingers is probably associated with a stagnant, early Woodfordian ice margin, implying that this interlobate area remained ice-free and ice-marginal for long periods during stage 2. Woodfordian ice eventually covered the region and deposited 5–10 m of sandy basal till over the proglacial outwash plain. Small stream valleys on the outwash surface were palimpsested onto the till surface as the ice retreated, as kettle chains and as dry, upland valleys. The larger of these valleys were so deeply incised by meltwater that they formed the large, through-flowing Finger valleys. The silt cap that occupies stable uplands was probably imported into the region, while still glaciated. The Fingers region, a col on the ice surface, could have acted as a collection basin for silts brought in as loess or in superglacial meltwater. This sediment was let down as the ice melted and preserved only on certain geomorphically stable and fluvially isolated locations. This study demonstrates that the impact of Woodfordian ice in this region was mostly erosional, and suggests that Mississippi Valley loess may have indirectly impacted this region.