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The natural landscape of Minnesota includes the readily visible aspects of the scenery—primarily the landforms, the vegetation, and the lakes. The landforms, including the basins in which the lakes and bogs are located, owe their origin to glaciation. The ice affected the area in one way or another for many thousands of years, up until about 11,000 years ago. Subsequently the lakes were filled with sediment as climate and vegetation gradually changed. The history of the glacial period is recorded by the topographic features of the region as well as by the composition and structure of the glacial drift. The postglacial environment history is recorded by the fossils in the lake sediments. Elk Lake is a typical glacial lake, except that it has the distinction of containing annually laminated sediments, which permit a precise chronology. Herein the sequence of glaciation and the development of the glacial landforms are considered First, then the regional climatic and vegetational history since the time of glaciation, and finally the characteristics of the lakes themselves, to provide a background for the detailed chapters on the stratigraphy of the various components of the Elk Lake sediments.

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