Massive discharges of freshwater from the glacial lake Missoula to the northeast Pacific Ocean are thought to have sculpted the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington and debouched via the Columbia River near 46°N. The dynamics and timing of these events and their impact on northeast Pacific circulation remain uncertain. Here we date marine records of anomalous freshwater inputs to the ocean based on freshwater diatoms, oxygen isotopes in foraminifera, and radiocarbon data. Low-salinity plumes from the Columbia River reduced sea-surface salinities by as much as 6 psu (practical salinity units) more than 400 km away between 16 and 31 cal (calendar) ka B.P. Anomalously high abundances of freshwater diatoms in marine sediments from the region precede generally accepted dates for the existence of glacial Lake Missoula, implying that large flooding or freshwater routing events were common during the advance of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet and that such events require multiple sources.

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