Skip to main content Accessibility help

Holocene paleoenvironmental changes inferred from diatom assemblages in sediments of Kusawa Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada

  • Krish Chakraborty (a1), Sarah A. Finkelstein (a1), Joseph R. Desloges (a1) and Nicole A. Chow (a1)


The southwest Yukon Territory, Canada, is an important region for recovering sensitive records of Holocene paleoclimatic change. More information is needed, however, to constrain the timing of the major Holocene climatic transitions, and to understand associated impacts on different ecosystems. For example, paleolimnological studies have focused on small lakes and ponds, but the history of large lakes has received little study. We analyzed diatom assemblages, species richness, valve concentrations, and biogenic silica, in the sediments of Kusawa Lake (60°16.5'N; 136°10.9'W; 671 m a.s.l.) to reconstruct the responses of this large (surface area = 142 km2), deep (Z max = 135 m) freshwater ecosystem to Holocene climatic transitions. Diatoms colonized the lake soon after ice retreat, around 11,000 cal yr BP; assemblages throughout the record were dominated by planktonic types. Diatom concentrations and biogenic silica were high during the Holocene Thermal Maximum between 10,700 and 7300 cal yr BP, then began to decrease in response to cooling associated with orbitally driven reductions in insolation. Diatom assemblages shifted towards taxa with lower surface water temperature optima after 8300 cal yr BP, perhaps in response to abrupt and progressive cooling. Our study confirms that diatom assemblages in large lakes are sensitive to regional-scale paleoclimatic changes.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author. E-mail address: (S.A. Finkelstein).


Hide All
Alley, R.B., Mayewski, P.A., Sowers, T., Stuiver, M., Taylor, K.C., and Clark, P.U. Holocene climatic instability: a prominent widespread event 8200 yr ago. Geology 25, (1997). 483486.
Anderson, L., Abbott, M.B., Finney, B.P., and Edwards, M.E. Palaeohydrology of the Southwest Yukon Territory, Canada, based on multiproxy analysis of lake sediment cores from a depth transect. Holocene 15, (2005). 11721183.
Battarbee, R.W., Jones, V.J., Flower, R.J., Cameron, N.G., Bennion, H., Carvalho, L., and Juggins, S. Diatoms. Smol, J.P., Birks, H.J.B., and Last, W.M. Tracking environmental change using lake sediments. Terrestrial, Algal, and Siliceous Indicators 3, (2001). Kluwer, Dordrecht. 155202.
Berger, A., and Loutre, M.F. Insolation values for the climate of the last 10 million years. Quaternary Science Reviews 10, (1991). 297317.
Bracht, B.B., Stone, J.R., and Fritz, S.C. A diatom record of late Holocene climate variation in the northern range of Yellowstone National Park, USA. Quaternary International 188, (2008). 149155.
Bunbury, J., and Gajewski, K. Postglacial climates inferred from a lake at treeline, southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, (2009). 354369.
Chow, N.A., (2009). Late Glacial and Holocene environmental change inferred from sedimentary archives of Kusawa Lake, Boundary Range Mountains, Yukon Territory, Canada. M.Sc. Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Clague, J.J., Evans, S.G., Rampton, V.N., and Woodsworth, G.J. Improved age estimates for the White River and Bridge River tephras, western Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 32, (1995). 11721179.
Conley, D.J. An inter-laboratory comparison for the measurement of biogenic silica in sediments. Marine Chemistry 63, (1998). 3948.
Cumming, B.F., Wilson, S.E., Hall, R.I., and Smol, J.P. Diatoms from British Columbia (Canada) Lakes and their relationship to Salinity, Nutrients and other limnological variables. Bibliotheca Diatomologica, Band 31. J. Cramer, Berlin-Stuttgart (1995).
Cwynar, L.C. Late Quaternary vegetation history of Kettlehole Pond, southwestern Yukon. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 18, (1988). 12701279.
Denton, G.H., and Karlen, W. Holocene glacial and tree-line variations in the White River Valley and Skolai Pass, Alaska and Yukon Territory. Quaternary Research 7, (1977). 63111.
Douglas, M.S.V., and Smol, J.P. Freshwater diatoms as indicators of environmental change in the High Arctic. Stoermer, E.F., and Smol, J.P. The Diatoms: Applications for the Environmental and Earth sciences. (1999). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 227263.
Edwards, T.L., Crucifix, M., and Harrison, S.P. Using the past to constrain the future: how the paleorecord can improve estimates of global warming. Physical Geography 31, (2007). 481500.
Environment Canada, (2000). Canadian Climate Normals. Environment Canada, Ottawa., Accessed Sept, (2008).
Fallu, M.A., Allaire, N., and Pienitz, R. Freshwater Diatoms from northern Quebec and Labrador (Canada). Bibliotheca Diatomologica, Band 45. J. Cramer, Berlin (2000).
Farnell, R., Hare, G.P., Blake, E., Bowyer, V., Schweger, C., Greer, S., and Gotthardt, R. Multidisciplinary investigations of alpine ice patches in southwest Yukon, Canada: paleoenvironmental and paleobiological investigations. Arctic 57, (2004). 247259.
Finkelstein, S.A., and Gajewski, K. A paleolimnological record of diatom community dynamics and late Holocene climatic changes from Prescott Island, Nunavut, central Canadian Arctic. Holocene 17, (2007). 803812.
Gilbert, R., and Desloges, J.R. The record of Glacial Lake Champagne in Kusawa Lake, southwestern Yukon Territory. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 42, (2005). 21272140.
Hu, F.S., Kaufman, D., Yoneji, S., Nelson, D., Shemesh, A., Huang, Y., Tian, J., Bond, G., Clegg, B., and Brown, T. Cyclic variation and solar forcing of Holocene climate in the Alaskan Subarctic. Science 301, (2003). 18901893.
IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B., Tignor, M., and Miller, H.L. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Johnston, S.T., Timmerman, J., (1994). Geological Map of the Aishihik Lake map area, southwest Yukon (115H/6). Exploration and Geological Services Division, Yukon, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Canada/Yukon Economic Development Agreement. Geoscience Open File 1994-1 (G), (scale 1:50,000).
Juggins, S. C2 Data Analysis, v.1.5.1. (2005). University of Newcastle, UK.
Karst-Riddoch, T.L., Pisaric, M.F.J., and Smol, J.P. Diatom responses to 20th century climate-related environmental changes in high-elevation mountain lakes of the northern Canadian Cordillera. Journal of Paleolimnology 33, (2005). 265282.
Kaufman, D.S., Ager, T.A., Anderson, N.J., Anderson, P.M., Andrews, J.T., Bartlein, P.J., Brubaker, L.B., Coats, L.L., Cwynar, L.C., Duvall, M.L., Dyke, A.S., Edwards, M.E., Eisner, W.R., Gajewski, K., Geirsdottir, A., Hu, F.S., Jennings, A.E., Kaplan, M.R., Kerwin, M.N., Lozhkin, A.V., MacDonald, G.M., Miller, G.H., Mock, C.J., Oswald, W.W., Otto-Bliesner, B.L., Porinchu, D.F., Rühland, K., Smol, J.P., Steig, E.J., and Wolfe, B.B. Holocene thermal maximum in the western Arctic (0-180 degrees W). Quaternary Science Reviews 23, (2004). 529560.
Krammer, K., and Lange-Bertalot, H. Susswasser-flora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae 2/3, 2/4. (2004). Elsevier, Berlin.
Krammer, K., and Lange-Bertalot, H. Susswasser-flora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae 2/1, 2/2. (2007). Elsevier, Berlin.
Kumke, T., Kienel, U., Weckström, J., Korhola, A., and Hubberten, H.-W. Inferred Holocene Paleotemperatures from Diatoms at Lake Lama, Central Siberia. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 36, (2004). 624634.
Lacourse, T., and Gajewski, K. Late Quaternary vegetation history of Sulphur Lake, southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Arctic 53, (2000). 2735.
Lynch, E.A. The ability of pollen from small lakes and ponds to sense fine-scale vegetation patterns in the central Rocky Mountains, USA. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 94, (1996). 197210.
Magri, D., Vendramin, G.G., Comps, B., Dupanloup, I., Geburek, T., Gomory, D., Latalowa, M., Litt, T., Paule, L., Roure, J.M., Tantau, I., van der Knaap, W.O., Petit, R.J., and de Beaulieu, J.L. A new scenario for the Quaternary history of European beech populations: palaeobotanical evidence and genetic consequences. New Phytologist 171, (2006). 199221.
Mann, D.H., and Hamilton, T.D. Late Pleistocene and Holocene paleoenvironments of the North Pacific coast. Quaternary Science Reviews 14, (1995). 449471.
McKay, N.P., Kaufman, D.S., and Michelutti, N. Biogenic silica concentration as a high-resolution, quantitative temperature proxy at Hallet Lake, south-central Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters 35, (2008). L05709 doi:10.1029/2007GL032876
Pienitz, R., Smol, J.P., and Birks, H.J.B. Assessment of freshwater diatoms as quantitative indicators of past climatic change in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Canada. Journal of Paleolimnology 13, (1995). 2149.
Pienitz, R., Smol, J.P., Last, W.M., Leavitt, P.R., and Cumming, B.F. Multi-proxy Holocene paleoclimatic record from a saline lake in the Canadian Subarctic. Holocene 10, (2000). 673686.
Podritske, B., and Gajewski, K. Diatom community response to multiple scales of Holocene climate variability in a small lake on Victoria Island, NWT, Canada. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, (2007). 31793196.
Rasmussen, P., Hede, M.U., Noe-Nygaard, N., Clarke, A.L., and Vinebrooke, R.D. Environmental response to the cold climate event 8200 years ago as recorded at Hojby So, Denmark. Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland Bulletin 15, (2008). 5760.
Raven, J.A., and Geider, R.J. Temperature and algal growth. New Phytologist 110, (1988). 441461.
Richter, D.H., Preece, S.J., McGimsey, R.G., and Westgate, J.A. Mount-Churchill, Alaska - source of the late Holocene White River Ash. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 32, (1995). 741748.
Rowe, J.S. Forest Regions of Canada. Department of Fisheries and the Environment. Canadian Forestry Service Publication No. 1300, Ottawa. (1972).
Smol, J.P. Paleoclimate proxy data from freshwater arctic diatoms. International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology 23, (1988). 837844.
Smol, J.P., and Cumming, B.F. Tracking long-term changes in climate using algal indicators in lake sediments. Journal Phycology 36, (2000). 9861011.
Strickland, J.D.H., and Parsons, T.R. A manual of sea water analysis. 2nd ed. (1965). Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa.
Stuiver, M., Reimer, P.J., and Reimer, R.W. Extended 14C database and revised CALIB radiocarbon calibration program (v. 5.01). Radiocarbon 35, (1993). 215230.
Vermaire, J.C., and Cwynar, L.C. A revised late-Quaternary vegetation history of the unglaciated southwestern Yukon Territory, Canada, from Antifreeze and Eikland ponds. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 47, (2010). 7588.
Von Grafenstein, U., Erlenkeuser, H., Müller, J., Jouzel, J., and Johnsen, S. The cold event 8200 years ago documented in oxygen isotope records of precipitation in Europe and Greenland. Climate Dynamics 14, (1998). 7381.
Weckström, J., Korhola, A., and Blom, T. The relationship between diatoms and water temperature in thirty subarctic Fennoscandian lakes. Arctic and Alpine Research 29, (1997). 7592.
Westgate, J.A., Preece, S.J., Froese, D.G., Walter, R.C., Sandhu, A., and Schweger, C.E. Dating Early and Middle (Reid) Pleistocene glaciations in Central Yukon by tephrochronology. Quaternary Research 56, (2001). 335348.
Wilson, S.E., and Gajewski, K. Surface-sediment diatom assemblages and water chemistry from 42 subarctic lakes in the southwestern Yukon and northern British Columbia, Canada. Ecoscience 9, (2002). 256270.
Wolfe, A.P. Diatom community responses to late-Holocene climatic variability, Baffin Island, Canada: a comparison of numerical approaches. Holocene 13, (2003). 2937.



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