The Loess Cover of Northeastern Wisconsin


Randall J. Schaetzl and John W. Attig


We present the first study of the distribution, genesis and paleoenvironmental significance of late Pleistocene loess in northeastern Wisconsin and adjacent parts of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Loess here is commonly 25–70 cm thick. Upland areas that were deglaciated early and remained geomorphically stable preferentially accumulated loess by providing sites that were efficient at trapping and retaining eolian sediment. Data from 419 such sites indicate that the loess was mainly derived from proglacial outwash plains and, to a lesser extent, hummocky end moraines within and near the region, particularly those toward the east of the loess deposits. Most of the loess was transported on katabatic winds coming off the ice sheet, which entrained and transported both silt and fine sands. The loess fines markedly, and is better sorted, distal to these source regions. Only minimal amounts of loess were deposited in this area via westerly winds. This research (1) reinforces the observation that outwash plains and end moraines can be significant loess sources, (2) provides evidence for katabatic winds as significant eolian transport vectors, and (3) demonstrates that the loess record may be variously preserved across landscapes, depending on where and when geomorphically stable sites became available for loess accumulation.