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Monitoring Playa Lake Inundation in the Western United States: Modern Analogues to Late-Holocene Lake Level Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Louis A. Scuderi
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, MSC032040 Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA Center for Rapid Environmental Assessment and Terrain Evaluation (CREATE), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
Christine K. Laudadio
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, MSC032040 Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA Center for Rapid Environmental Assessment and Terrain Evaluation (CREATE), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
Peter J. Fawcett
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, MSC032040 Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Closed basin playas are among the most sensitive hydrologic systems globally and are excellent indicators of current and past climatic variability. This variability can significantly impact hydrologic regimes and biotic communities, and is often expressed in lake-bed deposits and shoreline features. We analyzed two playa basins in western North America that lie to either side of the current divide between monsoon and westerly precipitation regimes. Using a 23-year sequence of Landsat images at a 16-day time step, we determined the playa inundation response to varying precipitation inputs. Our results show that a strongly contrasting lake-inundation response occurs in lake basins separated by only 200 km. The Animas/Lordsburg Basin shows a marked lake-area increase in response to winter precipitation events, while the more southerly Palomas Basin shows a stronger response to monsoonal and El Niño-type events. This sensitivity to different input sources over short distances may explain some of the apparent asynchronous behavior of playa response found in lake records. Comprehensive regional-scale inundation records could be used to understand the dynamics of playa inundation events and how these events are linked to atmospheric circulation, and possibly to understand the observed asynchronous behavior of lake basins during the late Pleistocene and Holocene.

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Original Articles
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University of Washington

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