Skip to main content

Highest Pluvial-Lake Shorelines and Pleistocene Climate of the Western Great Basin

  • Marith Reheis (a1)

Shoreline altitudes of several pluvial lakes in the western Great Basin of North America record successively smaller lakes from the early to the late Pleistocene. This decrease in lake size indicates a long-term drying trend in the regional climate that is not seen in global marine oxygen-isotope records. At +70 m above its late Pleistocene shoreline, Lake Lahontan in the early middle Pleistocene submerged some basins previously thought to have been isolated. Other basins known to contain records of older pluvial lakes that exceeded late Pleistocene levels include Columbus-Fish Lake (Lake Columbus-Rennie), Kobeh-Diamond (Lakes Jonathan and Diamond), Newark, Long (Lake Hubbs), and Clover. Very high stands of some of these lakes probably triggered overflows of previously internally drained basins, adding to the size of Lake Lahontan. Simple calculations based on differences in lake area suggest that the highest levels of these pluvial lakes required a regional increase in effective moisture by a factor of 1.2 to 3 relative to late Pleistocene pluvial amounts (assuming that effective moisture is directly proportional to the hydrologic index, or lake area/tributary basin area). These previously unknown lake levels reflect significant changes in climate, tectonics, and (or) drainage-basin configurations, and could have facilitated migration of aquatic species in the Great Basin.

Hide All
Adams, K.D., Wesnousky, S.G. (1996). Soil development, spatial variability and the age of the highest late Pleistocene Lake Lahontan shorelines, western Nevada and northeastern California, Appendix 2. Adams, K.D., Fontaine, S.A. Quaternary History, Isostatic Rebound and Active Faulting in the Lake Lahontan Basin, Nevada and California: Friends of the Pleistocene, Pacific Cell, 1996 Fall Field Trip.
Adams, K.D., Wesnousky, S.G. (1998). Shoreline processes and the age of the Lake Lahontan highstand in the Jessup embayment, Nevada. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 110, 13181332.
Benson, L.V., Paillet, F.L. (1989). The use of total lake-surface area as an indicator of climatic change: Examples from the Lahontan basin. Quaternary Research. 32, 262275.
Benson, L.V., Currey, D.R., Dorn, R.I., Lajoie, K.R., Oviatt, C.G., Robinson, S.W., Smith, G.I., Stine, S. (1990). Chronology of expansion and contraction of four Great Basin lake systems during the past 35,000 year. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeocology. 78, 241286.
Bradbury, J.P. (1991). The late Cenozoic diatom stratigraphy and paleolimnology of Tule Lake, Siskiyou Co. California. Journal of Paleolimnology. 6, 205255.
Cande, S.C., Kent, D.V. (1995). Revised calibration of the geomagnetic polarity timescale for the Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic. Journal of Geophysical Research. 100, 60936095.
Clark, D.H., Bierman, P.R., Larsen, P. (1995). Improving in situ cosmogenic chronometers. Quaternary Research. 44, 367377.
Currey, D.R. (1990). Quaternary palaeolakes in the evolution of semidesert basins, with special emphasis on Lake Bonneville and the Great Basin, U.S.A. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 76, 189214.
Davis, J.O. (1987). Tephrochronology of middle Pleistocene lake sediments in Kobeh Valley, Nevada: Implications for neotectonics and drainage history of the central Great Basin. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. 19, 370.
Demsey, K. (1987). Holocene Faulting and Tectonic Geomorphology along the Wassuk Range, West-Central Nevada. University of Arizona, Tucson.
Eardley, A.J., Shuey, R.T., Gvosdetsky, V., Nash, W.P., Picard, M.D., Grey, D.C., Kukla, G.J. (1973). Lake cycles in the Bonneville Basin, Utah. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 84, 211216.
Hay, R.L., Pexton, R.E., Teague, T.T., Kyser, T.K. (1986). Spring-related carbonate rocks, Mg clays, and associated minerals in Pliocene deposits of the Amargosa Desert, Nevada and California. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 97, 14881503.
Hershler, R and Sada, D. W. in press, Biogeography of Great Basin freshwater snails of the genus Pyrgulopsis. In, Great Basin Aquatic Systems History, ( Currey, D. Hershler, R. and Madsen, D. Eds.), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Hostetler, S., Benson, L.V. (1990). Paleoclimatic implications of the high stand of Lake Lahontan derived from models of evaporation and lake level. Climate Dynamics. 4, 207217.
Hubbs, C.L., Miller, R.R. (1948). The Great Basin. II. The zoological evidence. University of Utah Bulletin. 38, 17166.
Hubbs, C.L., Miller, R.R., Hubbs, L.C. (1974). Hydrographic history and relict fishes of the north-central Great Basin. California Academy of Sciences Memoir. 7, .
Huber, N.K. (1981). Amount and timing of late Cenozoic uplift and tilt of the Sierra Nevada, California—Evidence from the upper San Joaquin River basin. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper. 1197, .
Imbrie, J., Imbrie, J.Z. (1980). Modeling the climatic response to orbital variations. Science. 207, 943953.
Imbrie, J, Berger, A, Boyle, E. A, Clemens, S. C, Duffy, A, Howard, W. R, Kukla, G, Kutzbach, J, Martinson, D. G, McIntyre, A, Mix, A. C, Molfino, B, Morley, J. J, Peterson, L. C, Pisias, N. G, Prell, W. L, Raymo, M. E, Shackleton, N. J and Toggweiler, J. R.(1993). SPECMAP Archive #4. IGBP PAGES/World Data Center-A. Data Contribution Series 93–031.
Izett, G.A. (1981). Volcanic ash beds; recorders of upper Cenozoic silicic pyroclastic volcanism in the Western United States. Journal of Geophysical Research. 86, 10,20010,222.
Jannik, N.O., Phillips, F.M., Smith, G.I., Elmore, D. (1991). A 36Cl chronology of lacustrine sedimentation in the Pleistocene Owens River system. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 103, 11461159.
Knott, J.R., Sarna-Wojcicki, A.M., Meyer, C.E., Tinsley, J.C. III, Wan, E., Wells, S.G. (1996). Late Neogene stratigraphy of the Black Mountains piedmont, eastern California: Implications for the geomorphic and neotectonic evolution of Death Valley. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. 28, 82.
Lowenstein, T.K., Li, J., Brown, C., Roberts, S.M., Ku, The-L., Luo, S., Yang, W. (1999). 200 k.y. paleoclimate record from Death Valley salt core. Geology. 27, 36.
Mifflin, M.D., Wheat, M.M. (1979). Pluvial lakes and estimated pluvial climates of Nevada. Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin. 94, .
Minckley, W.L., Hendrickson, D.A., Bond, C.E. (1986). Geography of western North American freshwater fishes: Description and relationships to intracontinental tectonism. Hocutt, C.H., Wiley, E.O. Zoogeography of North American Freshwater Fishes. Wiley, New York., 519613.
Morrison, R.B. (1991). Quaternary stratigraphic, hydrologic, and climatic history of the Great Basin, with emphasis on Lakes Lahontan, Bonneville, and Tecopa. Morrison, R.B. Quaternary Nonglacial Geology: Conterminous U.S.. Geological Society of America, Boulder., 283320.
Oviatt, C. G, Thompson, R. S, Kaufman, D. S, Bright, J and Forester, R. M. in press, Reinterpretation of the Burmester core. Bonneville basin, Utah, Quaternary Research.
Parsons, T., Thompson, G.A., Sleep, N.H. (1994). Mantle plume influence on the Neogene uplift and extension of the U.S. western Cordillera. Geology. 22, 8386.
Pierce, K.L., Morgan, L.A. (1992). The track of the Yellowstone hot spot: Volcanism, faulting, and uplift. Link, P.K., Kuntz, M.A., Platt, L.B. Regional Geology of Eastern Idaho and Western Wyoming. 153.
Reheis, M.C., Morrison, R.B. (1997). High, old pluvial lakes of western Nevada. Link, P.K., Kowallis, B.J. Proterozoic to recent stratigraphy, tectonics, and volcanology, Utah, Nevada, southern Idaho and central Mexico. Brigham Young University Geology Studies, Provo., 459492.
Reheis, M.C., Palmquist, R.C., Agard, S.S., Jaworowski, C., Mears, B. Jr., Madole, R.F., Nelson, A.R., Osborn, G.D. (1991). Quaternary history of some southern and central Rocky Mountain basins. Morrison, R.B. Quaternary Nonglacial Geology: Conterminous US. Geological Society of America, Boulder., 407440.
Reheis, M.C., Slate, J.L., Sarna-Wojcicki, A.M., Meyer, C.E. (1993). A late Pliocene to middle Pleistocene pluvial lake in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada and California. Geological Society of America Bulletin. 105, 953967.
Reheis, M.C., Slate, J.L., Sawyer, T.L. (1995). Geologic map of late Cenozoic deposits and faults in parts of the Mt. Barcroft, Piper Peak, and Soldier Pass 15′ quadrangles, Esmeralda County, Nevada, and Mono County, California. U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Investigations Series Map.
Reheis, M. C, Sarna-Wojcicki, A. M, Reynolds, R. L, Repenning, C. A and Mifflin, M. D. in press, Pliocene to middle Pleistocene lakes in the western Great Basin: Ages and connections. In, Great Basin Aquatic Systems History, ( Currey, D., Hershler, R. and Madsen, D. Eds.), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Richmond, G.M., Fullerton, D.S. (1986). Summation of Quaternary glaciations in the United States of America. Richmond, G.M., Fullerton, D.S. Quaternary Glaciations in the United States of America. 183196.
Russell, I.C. (1885). Geological history of Lake Lahontan, a Quaternary lake of northwestern Nevada. U.S. Geological Survey Monograph. 11, 288.
Sarna-Wojcicki, A. M. (1995). Age, areal extent, and paleoclimatic effects of “Lake Clyde”, a mid-Pleistocene lake that formed the Corcoran Clay, Great Valley, California. Abstracts for Glacial History of the Sierra Nevada, California—a symposium in memorial to Clyde Wahrhaftig, Sept. 20–22, 10 pp, White Mountain Research Station, Bishop, California.
Sarna-Wojcicki, A.M., Lajoie, K.R., Meyer, C.E., Adam, D.P., Rieck, H.J. (1991). Tephrochronologic correlation of upper Neogene sediments along the Pacific margin, conterminous United States. Morrison, R.B. Quaternary Nonglacial Geology: Conterminous US. Geological Society of America, Boulder., 117140.
Small, E.E., Anderson, R.S. (1995). Geomorphically driven late Cenozoic rock uplift in the Sierra Nevada, California. Science. 270, 277280.
Smith, G.I., Barczak, V.J., Moulton, G., Liddicoat, J.C. (1983). Core KM-3, a surface-to-bedrock record of late Cenozoic sedimentation in Searles Valley, California. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper. 1256, .
Smith, G.I., Bischoff, J.L., Bradbury, J.P. (1997). Synthesis of the paleoclimatic record from Owens Lake core OL-92. Smith, G.I., Bischoff, J.L. An 800,000-year paleoclimatic record from core OL-92, Owens Lake, southeast California. 143160.
Smith, J.F.J., Ketner, K.B. (1976). Stratigraphy of post-Paleozoic rocks and summary of resources in the Carlin-Pinon Range area, Nevada. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper. 867-B, 48.
Spaulding, W.G., Robinson, S.W., Paillet, F.L. (1984). Preliminary assessment of climatic change during late Wisconsin time, southern Great Basin and vicinity, Arizona, California, and Nevada. U.S. Geological Survey Water Resource Investigations Report. 84–4328, .
Spooner, I.S., Osborn, G.D., Barendregt, R.W., Irving, E. (1995). A record of early Pleistocene glaciation on the Mount Edziza Plateau, northwestern British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 32, 20462056.
Stewart, J.H. (1988). Tectonics of the Walker Lane belt, western Great Basin: Mesozoic and Cenozoic deformation in a zone of shear. Ernst, W.G. Metamorphism and Crustal Evolution of the Western United States. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs., 683713.
Szabo, B.J., Bush, C.A. (1996). Uranium-series dating of carbonate (tufa) deposits associated with Quaternary fluctuations of Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Quaternary Research. 45, 271281.
Thompson, R. S, Anderson, K. H and Bartlein, P. J. in press, Quantitative paleoclimatic reconstructions from late Pleistocene plant macrofossils of the Yucca Mountain region. U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report.
Thompson, R.S., Whitlock, C., Bartlein, P.J., Harrison, S.P., Spaulding, W.G. (1993). Climatic changes in the western United States since 18,000 yr B.P. Wright, H.E. Jr., Kutzbach, J.E., Webb, T. III, Ruddiman, W.F., Street-Perrott, F.A., Bartlein, P.J. Global Climates Since the Last Glacial Maximum. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis., 468513.
Wernicke, B., Clayton, R., Ducea, M., Jones, C.H., Park, S., Ruppert, S., Saleeby, J., Snow, J.K., Squires, L., Fliedner, M., Jiracek, G., Keller, R., Klemperer, S., Luetgert, J., Malin, P., Miller, K., Mooney, W., Oliver, H., Phinney, R. (1996). Origin of high mountains in the continents: The southern Sierra Nevada. Science. 271, 190193.
Winograd, I.J., Szabo, B.J. (1988). Water-table decline in the south-central Great Basin during the Quaternary: Implications for toxic waste disposal. Carr, M.D., Yount, J.C. Geologic and hydrologic investigations of a potential nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain, southern Nevada. 147152.
Winograd, I.J., Szabo, B.J., Coplen, T.B., Riggs, A.C., Kolesar, P.T. (1985). Two-million-year record of deuterium depletion in Great Basin ground waters. Science. 227, 519522.
Winograd, I.J., Landwehr, J.M., Ludwig, K.R., Coplen, T.B., Riggs, A.C. (1997). Duration and structure of the past four interglaciations. Quaternary Research. 48, 141154.
Wolfe, J.A., Schorn, H.E., Forest, C.E., Molnar, P. (1997). Paleobotanical evidence for high altitudes in Nevada during the Miocene. Science. 276, 16721675.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed