This web page examines Raymond Kaczorowski's 1977 thesis that compares the Carolina Bays to oriented lakes. Kaczorowski falsely claimed that his wind and water experiment produced elliptical structures.
Kaczorowski's thesis was never subjected to the peer-review process of geological publications, but it has been widely cited in papers proposing the formation of the Carolina Bays by the action of wind and water, which are called eolian and lacustrine mechanisms. I would like to emphasize that this is not a personal attack on the geologists and scientists mentioned here, but it is an attempt to expose the failure of Kaczorowski's 1977 thesis to explain the geomorphology of the Carolina Bays, and to point out that any publications that have relied on Kaczorowski's 1977 thesis have a flawed foundation.
Kaczorowski starts by saying: "The origin of the Carolina Bays has been something of a geological enigma since their existence on the Coastal Plain was first recognized in 1848. Theories that have been proposed for the origin of the 'bays' are numerous and diverse. Surprisingly, however, most workers seem to have neglected the concept of uniformitarianism in their studies of these remarkable features; hence, few investigations have been designed to compare or contrast the Carolina Bays with modern analogs in Alaska, Chile and Texas."
Uniformitarianism is the theory that changes in the earth's crust during geological history have resulted from the action of continuous and uniform processes. So, from the outset, Kaczorowski wanted to show that the Carolina Bays were the result of ordinary geological mechanisms like the action of wind and water.
The oriented lakes in Alaska are called thermokarst lakes because they form when underground ice melts in a region underlain by permafrost and the ground collapses like a sinkhole. The cavity fills with water forming a lake. The shape and alignment of the thaw lakes is determined by the contours of the land, and the alignment is generally in the direction in which water drains toward lower terrain.
The oriented lakes in Chile mentioned by Kaczorowski are also thermokarst lakes. This is an image of some of the lakes in Isla Navarino, Chile, which is an island in Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of the South American mainland.
The oriented lakes in Texas are somewhat different from the thermokarst lakes. They are neatly arranged in parallel rows over the checkerboard pattern created by farm fields.
The Carolina Bays are generally elliptical in shape and their major axes are oriented to the southeast. The Carolina Bays have raised rims with preferential thickening toward on the southeast rim of the bays.
Kaczorowski conducted an experiment where he carved a circular indentation on a sand tray. He then filled the circular cavity with water and set a fan to blow over the pool.
He changed the fan to blow in opposite directions, as indicated by the arrows, every fifteen minutes for four hours. This periodic reversal of wind direction by 180 degrees does not happen in nature. His experiment produced a football-shaped pool from which he concluded that wind and water mechanisms such as these could have formed the Carolina Bays.
This is a photograph of pages 92 and 93 of Kaczorowski's thesis.
The caption of the image says: "A diagrammatic representation of model lake changes from circular to elliptical perpendicular to the influence of opposing winds alternated every fifteen minutes for a total of four hours. Sediment removed from the maximum transport zones along with sediment derived from near shore areas produced a net accretion in the areas where wave approach angle was low. Initial lake diameter was 65 cm."
It is difficult to understand why Kaczorowski described the resulting shape of his model lake as "elliptical" when the final shape looks more like an American football. Also, there is no explanation of why Kaczorowski alternated the direction of the wind in opposite directions for his experiment. We can only guess that he did it because he was not getting the results that he wanted when the wind was blowing from only one direction.
Trying to fit an ellipse to Kaczorowski's resultant shape does not work. The areas marked in pink indicate where the resultant shape is smaller than the perimeter of the ellipse. The areas where the resultant shape exceeds the boundaries of the ellipse are marked in green.
Using a larger ellipse to include the width of the resultant shape shows that the resultant shape is not elliptical at all.
The pointy shape from Kaczorowski's experiment resembles a bloated American football more than an ellipse.
Kaczorowski writes: "Few known impact craters on earth or other planets could be classified as being elliptical, due to the fact that the meteorites are generally believed to explode on impact, producing a spherical, rather than an elliptical crater. If one, therefore, assumes that these craters are not spherical because the meteorites did not explode on impact, the logical conclusion would be that at least some meteorites would remain. However, no meteorite material has ever been discovered in association with any 'bays'."
Kaczorowski dismisses the idea that the Carolina Bays were created by impacts, but he considers only extraterrestrial impacts. We should note that Kaczorowski was not precise in his description. In addition to mischaracterizing the resulting shape of his experiment as elliptical, he described impact craters as spherical, although he should have described them as circular.
LiDAR is an imaging technology that uses lasers to produce very detailed images of the Earth's surface. LiDAR imaging became common in the 1980's. This LiDAR image of Alaska's oriented lakes uses different colors to represent topographic elevations. Notice that the lakes have rough outlines and irregular shapes.
The reason for the alignment the lakes in Texas becomes evident from the LiDAR image.
The geology of the land has the topography of a washboard, and the lakes occur along the furrows of the terrain.
The Carolina Bays are found in fairly level unconsolidated terrain. The bays have smooth elliptical outline and they are oriented toward the Great Lakes. Notice that some of the bays overlap. Ellipticity decreases with size, but large bays consistently have width-to-length ratios averaging 0.58.
The ellipticity of the Carolina Bays can be demonstrated by fitting them with ellipses that have the same width-to-length ratios as the bays. The mathematical precision of the Carolina Bays and the constraints in width-to-length ratios is never mentioned by proponents of the eolian/lacustrine hypothesis.
The elliptical geometry of the Carolina Bays is conserved even when the bays overlap.
The Nebraska Rainwater Basins have the same elliptical geometry as the Carolina Bays, but their major axes are oriented toward the southwest. LiDAR has made it possible to compare the Carolina Bays to oriented lakes, and it is now clear that the Carolina Bays are unique geological features that are distinguished by their mathematically elliptical geomorphology and the orientation of their major axes toward the Great Lakes.
The Glacier Ice Impact Hypothesis, published in the journal Geomorphology in 2017, describes four mechanisms by which the Carolina Bays and the Nebraska Rainwater Basins may have formed. First, a meteorite impact on the Laurentide Ice Sheet ejected ice boulders in ballistic trajectories. The secondary impacts by the ice boulders liquefied unconsolidated ground close to the water table. Oblique impacts of ice boulders on liquefied ground created inclined conical cavities, and viscous relaxation reduced the depth of the conical cavities to produce shallow elliptical bays. Pictures of the experimental impacts contributed to the acceptance of the hypothesis for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Experimental impacts by ice projectiles on a mixture of sand and clay produce conical cavities that viewed from above appear elliptical.
Experiments also show that adjacent conical impact cavities transform into overlapping bays after viscous relaxation.
In 2012, Moore, Brooks, Ivester, Ferguson, and Feathers made a presentation at the GSA Annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina with the title "Carolina Bay Formation and Evolution: Kaczorowski was Right!" with an exclamation point.
The abstract of the presentation says that "the Carolina bays are oriented, shallow upland ponds occurring on the Atlantic Coastal Plain from New Jersey to North Florida. Historically, Carolina bays have received attention from those speculating on a catastrophic emplacement through cometary, meteoric, or airburst impacts. ... While these claims persist, our data indicate that Carolina bay origin and evolution are much better explained through more mundane, uniformitarian processes. The evidence gathered from Carolina bays in South Carolina and beyond demonstrate bay genesis as oriented lakes and formation through lacustrine processes of wind on shallow ponded water."
"Ray Kaczorowski's wind table modeling in 1977 revealed quite clearly how unidirectional winds on ponded water produce subaqueous circulation cells that shape and orient the bays, while constructing their sand rims as high-energy shoreline features."
It is interesting to see how a story changes when it is retold. The caption in Kaczorowski's thesis specifically said that the "model lake changes from circular to elliptical perpendicular to the influence of opposing winds alternated every fifteen minutes for a total of four hours." But in this 2012 presentation, the wind is characterized as being unidirectional instead of alternating by 180 degrees every fifteen minutes.
The 2012 GSA presentation included an invitation for a real-time demonstration of Kaczorowski's 1977 wind-table Carolina Bay formation model. Michael Davias attended the GSA meeting and went to that demonstration.
Michael Davias said: "I witnessed one attempt at re-creation where the experiment was set up with a single fan blowing across the center of the "pond", and indeed a current was set up crossing the pond and being steered left and right at the other side. I pointed out that wind does not blow as a plume of air, but as a parallel wind field. When a second fan was introduced so as to provide a more parallel field of air, the circulating pattern stopped and the far side simply eroded across the entire half circle, and the far side of the puddle migrated away from the fan, as in the clam-shell type oriented bays in Chile. And the experimenter never even considered the 180 degree wind direction shift regimen."
A paper about the Carolina Bays published four years later said: "Seminal work by Kaczorowski's (1977) on bay formation and evolution demonstrated that Carolina bays evolve through the interactions of strong, late Pleistocene directional winds on shallow, ponded water, producing oriented lakes; similar oriented lakes are a relatively common phenomenon globally. Through the use of wind table modeling, Kaczorowski demonstrated that strong prevailing winds (from the southwest in the Carolinas) were responsible for creating circulation cells that shaped natural depressions into ellipses and oriented bays perpendicular to prevailing wind."
This was written by four of the five authors from the Charlotte GSA meeting even after their failure to replicate Kaczorowski's wind experiment results in 2012.
The significance of Kaczorowski's 1977 thesis has kept improving every time that the story is told. This publication says that Kaczorowski demonstrated that Carolina Bays evolve by interaction with strong Pleistocene directional winds, but he did not demonstrate anything of the sort. Nobody knows with certainty the strength and direction of the wind during the Pleistocene. Another false statement is that Kaczorowski demonstrated that strong prevailing winds from the southwest shaped natural depressions into ellipses.
It should be emphasized that what Kaczorowski demonstrated was the transformation of a circular pool on a sand table into the shape of an American football by alternating the direction of the wind every fifteen minutes.
The Carolina Bays have a mathematically elliptical geomorphology that is best explained by conic sections. It is time to stop glorifying and referencing Kaczorowski's 1977 non-peer reviewed thesis. His experiment did not produce the elliptical geometry characteristic of the Carolina Bays, and the thesis did not have an explanation for overlapping bays. We should also keep in mind that the Nebraska Rainwater Basins have the same elliptical geometry as the Carolina Bays, but they are in terrain that has not been close to any sea for sixty million years. The radial alignment of these elliptical features toward the Great Lakes is a clue that should not be ignored.