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Climate Variability in East-Central California during the Past 1000 Years Reflected by High-Resolution Geochemical and Isotopic Records from Owens Lake Sediments

  • Hong-Chun Li (a1), James L. Bischoff (a2), Teh-Lung Ku (a1), Steven P. Lund (a1) and Lowell D. Stott (a1)...


Core OL-97A, retrieved from the depocenter of Owens Lake, represents a depositional history spanning the past 1000 yr. Among the 17 elements analyzed in the acid-leachable fractions of 315 salt-free samples (at ∼3 yr/sample), Mg and Li, which come chiefly from authigenic Mg-hydroxy-silicates, were found to have concentration variations reflecting lake salinity and climatic changes during the past. A total of 231 isotopic measurements on carbonates from the same samples in the upper 181 cm show that δ18O and δ13C values range from −5.66 to 0.12‰ (PDB) and 1.38 to 4.28‰ (PDB), respectively. The rate of change with time in δ18O records the rate of change in lake's volume due to climate fluctuations, whereas variations in δ13C reflect mainly variations in biological productivity, nutrient supply, and dissolved carbonate in the lake. Results indicate an effectively dry climate between A.D. 950 and 1220, corresponding to the Medieval Climatic Anomaly (a warm period in northern Europe), during which Owens Lake approached playa conditions. Wet climates prevailed during A.D. 1220–1480, producing relatively large and deep lakes. Beginning about A.D. 1550, the regional climate turned colder but had frequently oscillating precipitation. Six wet/dry cycles with ∼50-yr duration occurred between A.D. 1480 and 1760, during the later half of which Owens Lake became a playa. Since ∼A.D. 1880, the lake level has steadily dropped from its historic high stand under strong impact of human activity.



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