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Deglaciation of the Puget Lowland, Washington

October 23, 2020

Recently obtained radiocarbon ages from the southern Puget Lowland and reevaluation of limiting ages from the Olympic Peninsula in the light of new light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data suggest that the Juan de Fuca and Puget lobes of the Cordilleran ice sheet reached their maximum extents after 16,000 calibrated yr B.P. Source areas for both lobes fed through a common conduit, likely requiring that downstream responses to changes in either source area were similar. Dates for ice-sheet retreat are sparse and contradictory, but they suggest that retreat was rapid. Depositional and geomorphic evidence shows that retreat of the Juan de Fuca lobe predated retreat of the Puget lobe. No recessional end moraines have been identified in the Puget Lowland, in contrast to numerous recessional end moraines constructed by the Okanogan lobe east of the Cascade Range, and in contrast to later ice-sheet retreat in western Whatcom County north of the Puget Lowland. These observations lead to the hypothesis that collapse of the Juan de Fuca lobe, hastened by the instability of a marine-based ice sheet, steepened the ice-sheet surface over the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and diverted ice flow upstream of the Puget lobe to the west. Starved of ice, the Puget lobe retreated quickly.