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Guide to Surficial Geology and River-Bluff Exposures, Noatak National Preserve, Northwestern Alaska

May 19, 2009

From its origin in rugged granitic highlands of the central Brooks Range, the Noatak River flows westward between the De Long Mountains and the Baird Mountains before turning south to enter Kotzebue Sound. Glaciers of middle and late Pleistocene age entered the Noatak River valley from the east, north, and south. Glaciers flowed down the upper Noatak River valley from the rugged peaks at its head, merging with tributary glaciers that issued from cirque-headed valleys along its south flank. Farther downvalley, small glaciers flowed northward from the Baird Mountains and much larger glaciers issued from the De Long Mountains. The De Long Mountains glaciers expanded southward to cover parts of the Noatak valley floor; they dammed the Noatak River during successive advances, creating a series of glacial lakes. The more extensive glacial advances dammed huge lakes that filled the Aniuk Lowland to overflowing. At various times, overflow waters spilled northward through Howard Pass, southward via Hunt River into the Kobuk River system, and westward down a series of channelways that skirted south of the glacier margins.

Prominent bluffs along the Noatak River and its principal tributaries reveal glacial, glaciolacustrine, fluvial, and eolian sediments. More than 120 measured bluff exposures are described and illustrated in this report. These are dated by 92 radiocarbon age determinations and by the presence of the old Crow tephra, which was deposited about 130,000-140,000 years ago. Six geologic base maps, which cover sections of the Noatak River valley from east to west, show the locations of the river bluffs in relation to the glacial, glaciolacustrine, and fluvial deposits that cover the valley floor.

The upper Noatak River valley is dominated by a bulky end moraine near Douglas Creek that was deposited during the last glacial maximum about 25,000-15,000 14C yr BP (termed the Itkillik II phase in the central Brooks Range glacial succession). Bluffs along this section of the Noatak River reveal thick till that underlies the moraine and interfingers downvalley with outwash and upvalley with moraine-dammed lake deposits. Remnants of older river gravels that underlie the set of glacial deposits contain wood fragments that are dated at about 35,000-30,000 14C yr BP.

The Aniuk River area, which includes much of the eastern Aniuk Lowland, contains older moraines derived from headwaters of the Noatak valley that lie downvalley from the Douglas Creek moraine. These older moraines are assigned to the Itkillik IA and IB advances of the central Brooks Range glacial succession. Their deposits are seldom visible in river bluffs, but associated outwash and glaciolacustrine sediments are commonly exposed. More ancient end moraines farther downvalley are buried beneath lake deposits of the Aniuk Lowland, but are traceable as subdued arcuate drainage divides and as boulder concentrations in river bluffs or along their bases.

The Cutler River area was occupied by glacial lakes assignable to three separate glacial phases. The oldest of these was probably dammed by the Cutler moraine, which crosses the Noatak valley floor near the mouth of Cutler River. The younger two are correlated with Itkillik-age deposits in the Aniuk Lowland. Glaciers of Itkillik age also flowed northwestward down the Cutler and Imelyak valley systems from cirques along the Noatak-Kobuk divide, but they did not reach the Noatak valley floor.

The western Aniuk Lowland, which extends westward from the Cutler River mouth to the lower course of Nimiuktuk River, is dominated by a series of large end moraines deposited by glaciers from the De Long Mountains and that flowed southeastward down the Nimiuktuk valley system and then up the Noatak River valley. The Cutler moraine is the most extensive of these deposits. Following the Cutler glaciation, less extensive glacial advances built end moraines near the present-day mouths of Makpik Creek and Anisak River during in

Publication Year 2009
Title Guide to Surficial Geology and River-Bluff Exposures, Noatak National Preserve, Northwestern Alaska
DOI 10.3133/sir20085125
Authors Thomas D. Hamilton
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2008-5125
Index ID sir20085125
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center