The Theory

Photograph of Bretz expedition from Intermountain Motorist

Geologist J Harlen Bretz (1882-1981) studied the landforms of Washington's channeled scablands and proposed an outrageous hypothesis explaining their origin: huge, catastrophic floods affecting a total area of roughly 16,000 square miles

Beginning in the 1920s, for nearly 50 years Bretz gathered field data, refined his theory, and published the results of his research. He faced powerful objections from other geologists who appreciated his excellent field work but dismissed his "catastrophist" theory. Some of these colleagues proposed alternative hypotheses which were more consistent with the prevailing fundamental belief that geomorphology was the result of gradual processes.