Skip to main content Accessibility help

A computational approach to Quaternary lake-level reconstruction applied in the central Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, USA

  • Paul Pribyl and Bryan N. Shuman


Sediment-based reconstructions of late-Quaternary lake levels provide direct evidence of hydrologic responses to climate change, but many studies only provide approximate lake-elevation curves. Here, we demonstrate a new method for producing quantitative time series of lake elevation based on the facies and elevations of multiple cores collected from a lake's margin. The approach determines the facies represented in each core using diagnostic data, such as sand content, and then compares the results across cores to determine the elevation of the littoral zone over time. By applying the approach computationally, decisions are made systematically and iteratively using different facies classification schemes to evaluate the associated uncertainty. After evaluating our assumptions using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), we quantify past lake-elevation changes, precipitation minus evapotranspiration (ΔP−ET), and uncertainty in both at Lake of the Woods and Little Windy Hill Pond, Wyoming. The well-correlated (r = 0.802 ± 0.002) reconstructions indicate that water levels at both lakes fell at >11,300, 8000–5500, and 4700–1600 cal yr BP when ΔP − ET decreased to −50 to −250 mm/yr. Differences between the reconstructions are typically small (10 ± 24 mm/yr since 7000 cal yr BP), and the similarity indicates that our reconstruction method can produce statistically comparable paleohydrologic datasets across networks of sites.


Corresponding author

* Corresponding author. Fax: + 1 307 766 6679. E-mail address: (B.N. Shuman).


Hide All
Aebly, F.A., and Fritz, S.C. Paleohydrology of Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland during the last 8000 yr. The Holocene 19, (2009). 91104.
Barnett, T.P., Pierce, D.W., Hidalgo, H.G., Bonfils, C., Santer, B.D., Das, T., Bala, G., Wood, A.W., Nozawa, T., Mirin, A.A., Cayan, D.R., and Dettinger, M.D. Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the Western United States. Science 319, (2008). 10801083.
Benson, L., Kashgarian, M., Rye, R., Lund, S., Paillet, F., Smoot, J., Kester, C., Mensing, S., Meko, D., and Lindström, S. Holocene multidecadal and multicentennial droughts affecting Northern California and Nevada. Quaternary Science Reviews 21, (2002). 659682.
Bloom, A.M. A Paleolimnological Investigation of Climatic and Hydrological Conditions during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA. (2006). University of Utah,
Chadwick, O.A., Hall, R.D., and Phillips, F.M. Chronology of Pleistocene glacial advances in the central Rocky Mountains. Geological Society of America Bulletin 109, (1997). 14431452.
COHMAP members Climate changes of the last 18,000 years: observations and model simulations. Science 241, (1988). 10431052.
Cook, E.R., Seager, R., Cane, M.A., and Stahle, D.W. North American drought: reconstructions, causes, and consequences. Earth-Science Reviews 81, (2007). 93134.
Core Development Team, R. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. (2009). R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Dahms, D.E. Mineralogical evidence for eolian contribution to soils of late quaternary moraines, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Geoderma 59, (1993). 175196.
Dahms, D.E. Glacial stratigraphy of Stough Creek Basin, Wind River Range, Wyoming. Geomorphology 42, (2002). 5983.
Dahms, D.E., and Rawlins, C.L. A two-year record of eolian sedimentation in the Wind River Range, Wyoming, U.S.A. Arctic and Alpine Research 28, (1996). 210216.
Davis, M.B., and Ford, M.S. Sediment focusing in Mirror Lake. New Hampshire Limnology Oceanography 27, (1982). 137150.
Dearing, J.A. Sedimentary indicators of lake-level changes in the humid temperature zone: a critical review. Journal of Paleolimnology 18, (1997). 114.
Diffenbaugh, N.S., Ashfaq, M., Shuman, B., Williams, J.W., and Bartlein, P.J. Summer aridity in the United States: response to mid-Holocene changes in insolation and sea surface temperature. Geophysical Research Letters 33, (2006). L22712
Digerfeldt, G. Studies on Past Lake-Level Fluctuations. Berglund, B.E. Handbook of Holocene Palaeoecology and Palaeohydrology. (1986). John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, U. K. 127142.
Fall, P.L., Davis, P.T., and Zielinski, G.A. Late quaternary vegetation and climate of the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Quaternary Research 43, (1995). 393404.
Gosse, J.C., Klein, J., Lawn, B., Middleton, R., and Evenson, E.B. Beryllium-10 dating of the duration and retreat of the last Pinedale glacial sequence. Science 268, (1995). 13291333.
Hakanson, L. Lake bottom dynamics and morphometry: the dynamic ratio. Water Resources Research 18, (1982). 14441450.
Hakanson, L., and Jansson, M. Principles of Lake Sedimentology. (1983). Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg.
Harrison, S.P., and Digerfeldt, G. European lakes as palaeohydrological and palaeoclimatic indicators. Quaternary Science Reviews 12, (1993). 233248.
Harrison, S.P., Kutzbach, J.E., Liu, Z., Bartlein, P.J., Otto-Bliesner, B., Muhs, D., Prentice, I.C., and Thompson, R.S. Mid-Holocene climates of the Americas: a dynamical response to changed seasonality. Climate Dynamics 20, (2003). 663688.
Henderson, A.K., and Shuman, B.N. Differing controls on river- and lake-water hydrogen and oxygen isotopic values in the western United States. Hydrological Processes 24, (2010). 38943906.
Kelly, R.L., Surovell, T.A., Shuman, B., and Smith, G.M. A continuous climatic impact on Holocene human population in the Rocky Mountains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 110, (2013). 443447.
Kohfeld, K.E., and Harrison, S.P. How well can we simulate past climates? Evaluating the models using global palaeoenvironmental data sets. Quaternary Science Reviews 19, (2000). 321346.
Love, J. D., and Christiansen, A. C. (1985). Geologic Map of Wyoming. US Geological Survey Unnumbered Series. scale 1:500,000, 3 sheets.
Marcott, S.A. Late Pleistocene and Holocene Glacier and Climate Change. (2011). Oregon State University, (PhD Dissertation)
Marsicek, J.P., Shuman, B., Brewer, S., Foster, D.R., and Oswald, W.W. Moisture and temperature changes associated with the mid-Holocene Tsuga decline in the northeastern United States. Quaternary Science Reviews 80, (2013). 129142.
Mason, I.M., Guzkowska, M.A.J., Rapley, C.G., and Street-Perrott, F.A. The response of lake levels and areas to climatic change. Climatic Change 27, (1994). 161197.
Miao, X., Mason, J., Goblet, R.J., and Hanson, P.R. Loess record of dry climate and aeolian activity in the early to mid-Holocene, central Great Plains, North America. The Holocene 15, (2005). 339346.
Miao, X., Mason, J.A., Swinehart, J.B., Loope, D.B., Hanson, P.R., Goble, R.J., and Liu, X. A 10,000 year record of dune activity, dust storms, and severe drought in the central Great Plains. Geology 35, (2007). 119122.
Minckley, T., Shriver, R.K., and Shuman, B. Resilience and regime change in a southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem during the past 17000 years. Ecological Monographs 82, (2012). 4968.
Moser, K.A., and Kimball, J.P. A 19,000-year record of hydrologic and climatic change inferred from diatoms from Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho. Geological Society of America Special Papers 450, (2009). 229246.
Mote, P.W., Hamlet, A.F., Clark, M.P., and Lettenmaier, D.P. Declining mountain snowpack in western North America. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 86, (2005). 3949.
Nelson, D.B., Abbott, M.B., Steinman, B., Polissar, P.J., Stansell, N.D., Ortiz, J.D., Rosenmeier, M.F., Finney, B.P., and Riedel, J. Drought variability in the Pacific Northwest from a 6,000-yr lake sediment record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 108, (2011). 38703875.
NREL United States Wind Resources Map. (2009). Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL),
Phillips, F.M., Zreda, M.G., Gosse, J.C., Klein, J., Evenson, E.B., Hall, R.D., Chadwick, O.A., and Sharma, P. Cosmogenic 36Cl and 10Be ages of Quaternary glacial and fluvial deposits of the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Geological Society of America Bulletin 109, (1997). 14531463.
Plank, C., and Shuman, B. Drought-driven changes in lake areas and their effects on the surface energy balance of Minnesota's lake-dotted landscape. Journal of Climate 22, (2009). 40554065.
Reimer, P., Baillie, M., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J., Blackwell, P., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C., Burr, G., Edwards, R., Friedrich, M., Grootes, P., Guilderson, T., Hajdas, I., Heaton, T., Hogg, A., Hughen, K., Kaiser, K., Kromer, B., McCormac, F., Manning, S., Reimer, R., Richards, D., Southon, J., Talamo, S., Turney, C., van der Plicht, J., and Weyhenmeyer, C. IntCal09 and Marine09 radiocarbon age calibration curves, 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 51, (2009). 11111150.
Rowan, D.J., Kalff, J., and Rasmussen, J.B. Estimating the mud deposition boundary depth in lake from wave theory. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 49, (1992). 24902497.
Schmieder, J., Fritz, S.C., Swinehart, J.B., Shinneman, A.L.C., Wolfe, A.P., Miller, G., Daniels, N., Jacobs, K.C., and Grimm, E.C. A regional-scale climate reconstruction of the last 4000 years from lakes in the Nebraska Sand Hills, USA. Quaternary Science Reviews 30, (2011). 17971812.
Schnellmann, M., Anselmetti, F.S., Giardini, D., McKenzie, J.A., and Ward, S.N. Prehistoric earthquake history revealed by lacustrine slump deposits. Geology 30, (2002). 11311134.
Shin, S.-I., Sardeshmukh, P.D., Webb, R.S., Oglesby, R.J., and Barsugli, J.J. Understanding the mid-Holocene climate. Journal of Climate 19, (2006). 28012817.
Shinker, J.J., Shuman, B.N., Minckley, T., and Henderson, A. Climatic shifts in the availability of contested waters: a long-term perspective from the headwaters of the North Platte River. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, (2010). 866879.
Shuman, B. Controls on loss-on-ignition variation in cores from two shallow lakes in the northeastern United States. Journal of Paleolimnology 30, (2003). 371385.
Shuman, B. Recent Wyoming temperature trends, their drivers, and impacts in a 14,000-year context. Climatic Change 112, (2012). 429447.
Shuman, B., Newby, P., Donnelly, J.P., Tarbox, A., Webb, T. III A record of late-Quaternary moisture-balance change and vegetation response from the White Mountains, New Hampshire. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95, (2005). 237248.
Shuman, B., Pribyl, P., Minckley, T.A., and Shinker, J.J. Rapid hydrologic shifts and prolonged droughts in Rocky Mountain headwaters during the Holocene. Geophysical Research Letters 37, (2010). L06701
Smoot, J.P., and Rosenbaum, J.G. Sedimentary constraints on late Quaternary lake-level fluctuations at Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho. Geological Society of America Special Papers 450, (2009). 263290.
Steffensen, J.P., Andersen, K.K., Bigler, M., Clausen, H.B., Dahl-Jensen, D., Fischer, H., Goto-Azuma, K., Hansson, M., Johnsen, S.J., Jouzel, J. et al. High-resolution Greenland ice core data show abrupt climate change happens in few years. Science 321, (2008). 680684.
Steinman, B.A., Rosenmeier, M.F., and Abbott, M.B. The isotopic and hydrologic response of small, closed-basin lakes to climate forcing from predictive models: Simulations of stochastic and mean-state precipitation variations. Limnology and Oceanography 56, (2010). 22462261.
Street-Perrott, F.A., and Harrison, S.P. Lake Levels and Climate Reconstruction. Hecht, A.D. Paleoclimate analysis and modeling. (1985). J. Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York. 163195.
Telford, R.J., and Birks, H.J.B. The secret assumption of transfer functions: problems with spatial autocorrelation in evaluation model performance. Quaternary Science Reviews 24, (2005). 21732179.
Thompson, R.S., Whitlock, C., Bartlein, P.J., Harrison, S.P., and Spaulding, W.G. Climatic Changes in the Western United States since 18,000 yr b.p. Wright, H.E., Kutzbach, J.E., Webb, T., Ruddiman, W.F., Street-Perrott, F.A., and Bartlein, P.J. Global climates since the last glacial maximum. (1993). University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 468513.
Vassiljev, J., Harrison, S.P., and Guiot, J. Simulating the Holocene lake level record of Lake Bysjon, Southern Sweden. Quaternary Research 49, (1998). 6271.
Webb, R.S., Webb, T. III Rates of sediment accumulation in pollen cores from small lakes and mires of eastern North America. Quaternary Research 30, (1988). 284297.
Winkler, M.G., Swain, A.M., and Kutzbach, J.E. Middle Holocene dry period in the northern midwestern United States: lake levels and pollen stratigraphy. Quaternary Research 25, (1986). 235250.
Winter, T.C. Relation of streams, lakes, and wetlands to groundwater flow systems. Hydrogeology Journal 7, (1999). 2845.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Pribyl and Shuman supplementary material

 PDF (1.2 MB)
1.2 MB


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