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Red River flood waters approaching the bottom of the Sorlie Bridge in East Grand Forks, Minn., on April 4, 2006. Image courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Geological setting of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota plays underlying role in Red River flooding, U of M expert says

February 23, 2011

As communities in the Red River Valley prepare for flooding this spring, attention has turned to the unique circumstance of the region. Why does this area appear to be particularly affected?

A University of Minnesota expert who can discuss the causes of flooding in the Red River Valley is:

Scott St. George, assistant professor, Department of Geography

Historical accounts demonstrate that communities along the Red River have been affected by severe floods since settlement began in the early 1800s, St. George says. Tree-rings records contain evidence of severe floods even earlier, in the 1700s. Simulations based on hydrological models suggest that the Red River has been capable of producing major floods since it was formed at the end of the last glaciation (around 8000 years ago).

St. George says although weather is the immediate cause of individual Red River floods, the underlying cause of their severity is the geological setting of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. “For much of its length, the Red River flows across the former bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz,” St. George says. “The sediment laid down at the bottom of Lake Agassiz created the region's virtually flat landscape, which allows floods to spread over a broad area several miles wide.”

In conclusion, St. George says because severe floods like 2009 are a product of the region's geology and natural history, they are likely to remain a fact of life for people living in the Red River Valley.

As an Earth scientist, St. George’s research and teaching interests include topics in paleoclimatology, climate dynamics, natural hazards and climate impacts on renewable energy.

To interview St. George, contact Jeff Falk, University News Service, or (612) 626-1720; or Tessa Eagan, College of Liberal Arts, or (612) 625-3781.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit Views expressed by experts do not represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

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