Skip to main content Accessibility help

Revisiting the Timing of the Northern Lobe of the White River Ash Volcanic Event in Eastern Alaska and Western Yukon

  • Joshua Reuther (a1) (a2), Ben Potter (a2), Sam Coffman (a1), Holly Smith (a2) (a3) and Nancy Bigelow (a4)...


The northern lobe of the White River Ash (WRAn) is part of a bilobate distribution of tephras that originated from the Wrangell Volcanic Field near the border of Alaska, USA, and Yukon, Canada. It is distributed across northeastern Alaska and the northwestern portion of the Yukon. The timing of this eruption has seen little critical analysis relative to the younger and more extensive eastern lobe eruption of the White River Ash. We compiled 38 radiocarbon (14C) dates from above and below the WRAn, and employed several statistical approaches to identify and eliminate or down-weight outliers, combine dates, and different Bayesian models, to provide a revised age estimate for the timing of the WRAn tephra deposition. Our results indicate that the most accurate modeled age estimate for the northern lobe of the White River Ash deposition is between 1689 and 1560 cal BP, with a mean and median of 1625 and 1623 cal BP, respectively. This age range is 90 to 200 years younger than previous age estimates.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author.


Hide All
Abbott, PM, Davies, SM. 2012. Volcanism and the Greenland ice-cores: the tephra record. Earth-Science Reviews 115:173191.
Beget, J, Mason, O, Anderson, P. 1992. Age, extent and climatic significance of the c. 3400 BP Aniakchak tephra, western Alaska, USA. The Holocene 2(1):5156.
Bigelow, NH. 2014. The history of three lakes in interior Alaska. Report prepared by the Alaska Quaternary Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, AK, for the National Park Service, Anchorage, AK. Final report submitted to the National Park Service for CESU cooperative agreement H9811080028.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009a. Dealing with outliers and offsets in radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon 51(3):10231045.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009b. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51(1):337360.
Buck, CE, Highham, TFG, Lowe, DJ. 2003. Bayesian tools for tephrochronology. The Holocene 13(5):639647.
Bunbury, J, Gajewski, K. 2009. Variation in the depth and thickness of the White River Ash in lakes of the southwest Yukon. In: Weston, LH, Blackburn, LR, Lewis, LL, editors. Yukon exploration and geology 2008. Whitehorse (Yukon): Yukon Geological Survey. p. 7784.
Bunbury, J, Gajewski, K. 2013. Effects of the White River Ash event on aquatic environments, southwest Yukon, Canada. Arctic 66(1):1731.
Capps, SR. 1916. An ancient volcanic eruption in the upper Yukon Basin. In: White, D, editor. Short contributions to general geology, 1915. Professional Paper 95. Washington D.C.: United States Geological Survey, United States Government Printing Office. p. 5972.
Clague, JJ, Evans, SG, Rampton, VN, Woodsworth, GJ. 1995. Improved age estimates for the White River and Bridge River tephras, western Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 32:11721179.
Coffman, S, Mills, R, Shirar, S. 2018. Late Holocene land-use along the Middle Fork of the Fortymile River, Alaska. Alaska Journal of Anthropology 16(1):95106.
Coulter, SE, Pilcher, JR, Plunkett, G, Baillie, M, Hall, VA, Steffensen, JP, Vinther, BM, Clausen, HB, Johnsen, SJ. 2012. Holocene tephras highlight complexity of volcanic signals in Greenland ice cores. Journal of Geophysical Research 117(D21303):111.
Davies, LJ, Jensen, BJL, Froese, DG, Wallace, KL. 2016. Late Pleistocene and Holocene tephrostratigraphy of interior Alaska and Yukon: key beds and chronologies over the past 30,000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews 146:2853.
Denton, GH, Karlen, W. 1977. Holocene glacial and tree-line variations in the White River Valley and Skolai Pass, Alaska and Yukon Territory. Quaternary Research 7:63111.
Derry, DE. 1975. Later Athapaskan prehistory: a migration hypothesis. Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology 5(3–4):134147.
Dixon, EJ. 1985. Cultural chronology of central interior Alaska. Arctic Anthropology 22(1):4766.
Fernald, AT. 1962. Radiocarbon dates relating to a widespread volcanic ash deposit, eastern Alaska. In: Short Papers in Geology, Hydrology, and Topography Articles 1-59, Geological Survey Research 1962. Geological Survey Professional Paper 450-B. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. B-29-B30.
Gautier, E, Savarino, J, Erbland, J, Lanciki, A, Possenti, P. 2016. Variability of sulfate signal in ice core records based on five replicate cores. Climate of the Past 12:103113.
Gordon, BC. 2012. The White River Ash fall: migration trigger or localized event? Revista de Arqueología Americana 30:91102.
Heffner, TA. 2001. KaVn-2: An Eastern Beringian tradition archaeological site in west-central Yukon Territory, Canada. Occasional Papers in Archaeology No. 10. Whitehorse (Yukon): Heritage Branch, Government of the Yukon.
Ives, JW. 2008. Review of “Athapaskan migrations: the archaeology of Eagle Lake, British Columbia”. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 32:153159.
Jensen, BJL, Pyne-O’Donnell, S, Plunkett, G, Froese, DG, Hughes, PDM, Sigl, M, McConnell, JR, Amesbury, MJ, Blackwell, PG, van den Bogaard, C, Buck, CE, Charman, DJ, Clague, JJ, Hall, VA, Koch, J, Mackay, H, Mallon, G, McColl, Pilcher JR. 2014. Transatlantic distribution of the Alaskan White River Ash. Geology 42(10):875878.
Kuhn, T, McFarlane, KA, Groves, P, Mooers, , Shapiro, B. 2010. Modern and ancient DNA reveal recent partial replacement of caribou in the southwest Yukon. Molecular Ecology 19:13121323.
Lerbekmo, JF, Campbell, FA. 1969. Distribution, composition, and source of the White River Ash, Yukon Territory. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 6:109116.
Lerbekmo, JF, Westgate, JA, Smith, DGW, Denton, GH. 1975. New data on the character and history of the White River volcanic eruption, Alaska. In: Quaternary studies: selected papers from IX INQUA congress. Royal Society of New Zealand Bulletin 13:203209
Letts, B, Fulton, TL, Stiller, M, Andrews, TD, MacKay, G, Popko, R, Shapiro, B. 2012. Ancient DNA reveals genetic continuity in mountain woodland caribou of the Mackenzie and Selwyn Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. Arctic 65:8094.
Livingston, JM, Smith, DG, Froese, DG, Hughenholtz, CH. 2009. Floodplain stratigraphy of the ice jam dominated middle Yukon River: a new approach to long-term flood frequency. Hydrological Processes 23:357371.
Lowdon, JA, Blake, W. 1968. Geological Survey of Canada radiocarbon dates VII. Radiocarbon 10(2):207245.
Lowe, DJ, McFadgen, BG, Higham, TFG, Hoggs, AG, Froggat, PC, Nairn, IA. 1998. Radiocarbon age of the Kaharoa tephra, a key marker for late-Holocene stratigraphy and archaeology in New Zealand. The Holocene 8(4):487495.
Lynch, JJ, Goebel, T, Graf, KE, Rasic, JT. 2018. Archaeology of the uppermost Tanana: results of a survey of the Nabesna and Chisana Rivers, east-central Alaska. Alaska Journal of Anthropology 16(1):2143.
McGeehin, J, Burr, GS, Jull, AJT, Reines, D, Gosse, J, Davis, PT, Muhs, D, Southon, JR. 2001. Stepped-combustion 14C dating of sediment: a comparison with established techniques. Radiocarbon 43(2):255261.
McGimsey, RG, Richter, DH, DuBois, GD, Miller, TP. 1992. A postulated new source for the White River Ash, Alaska. In: Bradley, DC, Ford, AB, editors. Geologic studies in Alaska by the U.S. Geological Survey, 1990. U.S. Geological Bulletin 1999. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. 212218.
MacIntosh, GD. n.d. The calendric dating and seasonality of the White River Ash. Unpublished manuscript on file at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks, Alaska USA.
Matson, RG, Magne, MPR. 2007. Athapaskan migrations: the archaeology of Eagle Lake, British Columbia. Tucson (AZ): University of Arizona Press.
Mullen, PO. 2012. An archaeological test of the effects of the White River Ash eruptions. Arctic Anthropology 49(1):3544.
Mulliken, KM, Scheafer, JR, Cameron, CE. 2018. Geospatial distribution of tephra fall in Alaska: a geodatabase published tephra fall occurrences from the Pleistocene to the present. Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys Miscellaneous Publication 164. Fairbanks: Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. p. 46. Available at
Nilsson, M, Klarqvist, M, Bohlin, E, Possnert, G. 2001. Variation in 14C age of macrofossils and different fractions of minute peat samples dated by AMS. The Holocene 11(5):579–86.
Patterson, JJ. 2008. Late Holocene land use in the Nutzotin Mountains: lithic scatters, viewsheds, and resource distribution. Arctic Anthropology 45(2):114127.
Patterson, RT, Crann, CA, Cutts, JA, Courtney Mustaphi, CJ, Nasser, NA, Macumber, AL, Galloway, JM, Swindles, GT, Falck, H. 2017. New occurrences of the White River Ash (east lobe) in Subarctic Canada and utility for estimating freshwater reservoir effect in lake sediment archives. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 477:19.
Preece, SJ, McGimsey, RG, Westgate, JA, Pearce, NJG, Hart, WK, Perkins, WT. 2014. Chemical complexity and source of the White River Ash, Alaska and Yukon. Geosphere 10(5):10201042.
Potter, BA. 2008. Exploratory models of intersite variability in mid to late Holocene central Alaska. Arctic 61:407425.
Potter, BA, Reuther, JD, Hays, JM, Bowers, PM, Wooley, C, Price, K, Higgs, A. 2009. Results of the 2008 Phase I cultural resources survey of the proposed Denali Gas Pipeline Project area: Big Delta to the Canadian border. Report prepared by Northern Land Use Research, Inc., Fairbanks (AK), and Chumis Cultural Resources Services, Anchorage (AK), under contract to Denali – The Alaska Gas Pipeline, LLC., Anchorage (AK).
Reimer, PJ, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, JW, Blackwell, PG, Bronk Ramsey, C, Buck, CE, Cheng, H, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, Grootes, PM, Guilderson, TP, Haflidason, H, Hajdas, I, Hatté, C, Heaton, TJ, Hoffmann, DL, Hogg, AG, Hughen, KA, Kaiser, KF, Kromer, B, Manning, SW, Niu, M, Reimer, RW, Richards, DA, Scott, EM, Southon, JR, Staff, RA, Turney, CSM, van der Plicht, J. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18691887.
Reuther, JD, Hays, JM, Rogers, JS, Gelvin-Reymiller, C, Potter, BA, Bowers, PM, Bowman, RC, Wooley, C. Tephra studies in large-scale cultural resources management project in Alaska. Paper presented at the 40th Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association, Anchorage, AK, March 13th–16th, 2013.
Richter, DH, Preece, SJ, McGimsey, RG, Westgate, JA. 1995. Mount Churchill, Alaska: source of late Holocene White River Ash. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 32:741748.
Robinson, SD. 2001. Extending the late Holocene White River Ash distribution, northwestern Canada. Arctic 54(2):157161.
Sheppard, WL, Steffian, AF, Staley, DP, Bigelow, NH. 1991. Late Holocene occupations at the Terrace site, Tok, Alaska. Report prepared by the Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center, University of Alaska Anchorage (AK) for the United States Air Force Over-the-Horizon Backscatter Radar Program, Hanscom Air Force Base (MA).
Smith, CAS, Ping, CL, Fox, CA, Kodama, H. 1999. Weathering characteristics of some soils formed in White River tephra, Yukon Territory, Canada. Canadian Journal of Soil Science 79(4):603613.
Stuiver, M, Borns, HW, Denton, GH. 1964. Age of a widespread layer of volcanic ash in the southwestern Yukon Territory. Arctic 17(4):259261.
Thomas, CD. 2003. Ta’tla Mun: an archaeological examination of technology, subsistence economy and trade at Tatlmain Lake, central Yukon. Occasional Papers in Archaeology 13. Whitehorse, Yukon Territory: Yukon Heritage Branch.
Väliranta, M, Oinonen, M, Seppä, H, Korkonenm, Juutinen S, Tuittila, E-S. 2014. Unexpected problems in AMS 14C dating of fen peat. Radiocarbon 56(1):95108.
Vandergoes, MJ, Hogg, AG, Lowe, DJ, Newnham, RM, Denton, GH, Southon, J, Barrell, DJA, Wilson, CJN, McGlone, MS, Allan, ASR, Almond, PC, Petchey, F, Dabell, K, Dieffenbacher-Krall, AC, Blaauw, M. 2013. A revised age for the Kawakawa/Oruanui tephra, a key marker for the Last Glacial Maximum in New Zealand. Quaternary Science Reviews 74:195201.
Vanderhoek, R, Nelson, RE. 2007. Ecological roadblocks on a constrained landscape: The cultural effects of catastrophic volcanism on the Alaska Peninsula, southwest Alaska. In: Gero, J, Leone, M, Torrence, R, editors. Living under the shadow: cultural impacts of volcanic eruptions. California: Left Coast Press. p.133152.
Ward, GK, Wilson, SR. 1978. Procedures from comparing and combining radiocarbon age determinations: a critique. Archaeometry 20(1):1931.
Workman, WB. 1972. The cultural significance of a volcanic ash which fell in the Upper Yukon basin about 1400 years ago. Expanded version of a paper read at the International Conference on the Prehistory and Paleoecology of the Western American Arctic and Subarctic, Calgary. Paper on file at the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, 550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1310, Anchorage, Alaska.
Workman, WB. 1978. Prehistory of the Aishihik-Kluane area, southwest Yukon Territory. Mercury Series, Archaeological Survey of Canada Paper 74. Ottawa: National Museum of Man.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Reuther et al. supplementary material
Reuther et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (12.5 MB)
12.5 MB
Supplementary materials

Reuther et al. supplementary material
Reuther et al. supplementary material 2

 Unknown (18 KB)
18 KB
Supplementary materials

Reuther et al. supplementary material
Reuther et al. supplementary material 3

 Word (7.1 MB)
7.1 MB

Revisiting the Timing of the Northern Lobe of the White River Ash Volcanic Event in Eastern Alaska and Western Yukon

  • Joshua Reuther (a1) (a2), Ben Potter (a2), Sam Coffman (a1), Holly Smith (a2) (a3) and Nancy Bigelow (a4)...


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.