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Structure and Function of an Alpine EcosystemNiwot Ridge, Colorado$
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William D. Bowman and Timothy R. Seastedt

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195117288

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195117288.001.0001

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Paleoecology and Late Quaternary Environments of the Colorado Rockies

Paleoecology and Late Quaternary Environments of the Colorado Rockies

(p.285) 15 Paleoecology and Late Quaternary Environments of the Colorado Rockies
Structure and Function of an Alpine Ecosystem

Scott A. Elias

Oxford University Press

Present-day environments cannot be completely understood without knowledge of their history since the last ice age. Paleoecological studies show that the modern ecosystems did not spring full-blown onto the Rocky Mountain region within the last few centuries. Rather, they are the product of a massive reshuffling of species that was brought about by the last ice age and indeed continues to this day. Chronologically, this chapter covers the late Quaternary Period: the last 25,000 years. During this interval, ice sheets advanced southward, covering Canada and much of the northern tier of states in the United States. Glaciers crept down from mountaintops to fill high valleys in the Rockies and Sierras. The late Quaternary interval is important because it bridges the gap between the ice-age world and modern environments and biota. It was a time of great change, in both physical environments and biological communities. The Wisconsin Glaciation is called the Pinedale Glaciation in the Rocky Mountain region (after terminal moraines near the town of Pinedale, Wyoming; see chapter 4). The Pinedale Glaciation began after the last (Sangamon) Interglaciation, perhaps 110,000 radiocarbon years before present (yr BP), and included at least two major ice advances and retreats. These glacial events took different forms in different regions. The Laurentide Ice Sheet covered much of northeastern and north-central North America, and the Cordilleran Ice Sheet covered much of northwestern North America. The two ice sheets covered more than 16 million km2 and contained one third of all the ice in the world’s glaciers during this period. The history of glaciation is not as well resolved for the Colorado Front Range region as it is for regions farther north. For instance, although a chronology of three separate ice advances has been established for the Teton Range during Pinedale times, in northern Colorado we know only that there were earlier and later Pinedale ice advances. We do not know when the earlier advance (or multiple advances) took place. However, based on geologic evidence (Madole and Shroba 1979), the early Pinedale glaciation was more extensive than the late Pinedale was.

Keywords:   Bistorta vivipara, Glaciers, Moraines, Neoglaciation, Pinedale glaciation

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