The Distribution of Silty Soils in the Grayling Fingers Region of Michigan: Evidence for Loess Deposition onto Frozen Ground



Randall J. Schaetzl


This paper presents textural, geochemical, mineralogical, soils, and geomorphic data on the sediments of the Grayling Fingers region of northern Lower Michigan. The Fingers are mainly comprised of glaciofluvial sediment, capped by sandy till. The focus of this research is a thin silty cap that overlies the till and outwash; data presented here suggest that it is local-source loess, derived from the Port Huron outwash plain and its down-river extension, the Mainstee River valley. The silt is geochemically and texturally unlike the glacial sediments that underlie it and is located only on the flattest parts of the Finger uplands and in the bottoms of upland, dry kettles. On sloping sites, the silty cap is absent. The silt was probably deposited on the Fingers during the Port Huron meltwater event; a loess deposit roughly 90 km down the Manistee River valley has a comparable origin. Data suggest that the loess was only able to persist on upland surfaces that were either closed depressions (currently, dry kettles) or flat because of erosion during and after loess deposition. Deep, low-order tributary gullies (almost ubiquitous on Finger sideslopes) could only have formed by runoff, and soil data from them confirm that the end of gully formation (and hence, the end of runoff) was contemporaneous with the stabilization of the outwash surfaces in the lowlands. Therefore, runoff from the Finger uplands during the loess depositional event is the likely reason for the absence of loess at sites in the Fingers. Because of the sandy nature and high permeability of the Fingers' sediments, runoff on this scale could only have occurred under frozen ground conditions. Frozen ground and windy conditions in the Fingers at the time of the Port Huron advance is likely because the area would have been surrounded by ice on roughly three sides. This research (1) shows that outwash plains and meltwater streams of only medium size can be significant loess sources and.