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Holocene environmental change resets lichen surface dates on Recess Peak glacial deposits in the Sierra Nevada, California

  • Louis A. Scuderi and Peter J. Fawcett


Development of an accurate chronology for glacial deposits in the Sierra Nevada has long been problematic given the lack of suitable organic material for radiocarbon dating. Lichenometry initially appeared promising as ages showed an increase from cirque headwalls to down-canyon moraines. However, while Recess Peak lichen age estimates range from 2 to 3 ka, recent work shows these deposits to be at least 10 ka older. Here, we present evidence for a late Holocene reset of Recess Peak lichen ages by significant post-depositional climate change. Following late-Pleistocene deposition of Recess Peak moraines, warming through the mid-Holocene allowed forests to advance into shallow basins eliminating local inverted tree lines. This produced a partial canopy where shading killed the original post-Pleistocene crustose lichen colonies. Late-Holocene cooling resulted in forest retreat from these basins as alpine tree line fell. Lichens then recolonized the re-exposed Recess Peak deposits. We conclude that while Recess Peak lichen ages are accurate to within the dating uncertainty of the technique, existing lichen ages actually date the timing of post-mid-Holocene cooling and recolonization, and not the original emplacement of these deposits. Thus, applications of Lichenometry should consider post-depositional environmental change when interpreting the meaning of these dates.


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*Corresponding author. Fax: 505 2778843. E-mail address: (L.A. Scuderi).


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Holocene environmental change resets lichen surface dates on Recess Peak glacial deposits in the Sierra Nevada, California

  • Louis A. Scuderi and Peter J. Fawcett


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