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Well-preserved moraines from the penultimate, or Bull Lake, glaciation of Snowmass Creek Valley in the Elk Range of Colorado (USA) present an opportunity to examine the character of the high-altitude climate in the Rocky Mountains during Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 6. This study employs a 2-D coupled mass/energy balance and flow model to assess the magnitudes of temperature and precipitation change that could have sustained the glacier in mass-balance equilibrium at its maximum extent during the Bull Lake glaciation. Variable substrate effects on glacier flow and ice thickness make the modeling somewhat more complex than in geologically simpler settings. Model results indicate that a temperature depression of about 6.7°C compared with the present (1971–2000 AD) would have been necessary to sustain the Snowmass Creek glacier in mass-balance equilibrium during the Bull Lake glaciation, assuming no change in precipitation amount or seasonality. A 50% increase or decrease from modern precipitation would have been coupled with 5.2°C and 9.1°C Bull Lake temperature depressions respectively. Uncertainty in these modeled temperature depressions is about 1°C.
In North America, terrestrial records of biodiversity and climate change that span Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 are rare. Where found, they provide insight into how the coupling of the ocean–atmosphere system is manifested in biotic and environmental records and how the biosphere responds to climate change. In 2010–2011, construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA) revealed a nearly continuous, lacustrine/wetland sedimentary sequence that preserved evidence of past plant communities between ~140 and 55 ka, including all of MIS 5. At an elevation of 2705 m, the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site also contained thousands of well-preserved bones of late Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, horses, camels, deer, bison, black bear, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. In addition, the site contained more than 26,000 bones from at least 30 species of small animals including salamanders, otters, muskrats, minks, rabbits, beavers, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds. The combination of macro- and micro-vertebrates, invertebrates, terrestrial and aquatic plant macrofossils, a detailed pollen record, and a robust, directly dated stratigraphic framework shows that high-elevation ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are climatically sensitive and varied dramatically throughout MIS 5.
During the last glacial maximum (LGM), the western Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah were occupied by the Western Uinta Ice Field. Cosmogenic10Be surface-exposure ages from the terminal moraine in the North Fork Provo Valley and paired26Al and10Be ages from striated bedrock at Bald Mountain Pass set limits on the timing of the local LGM. Moraine boulder ages suggest that ice reached its maximum extent by 17.4±0.5 ka (± 2σ).10Be and26Al measurements on striated bedrock from Bald Mountain Pass, situated near the former center of the ice field, yield a mean26Al/10Be ratio of 5.7±0.8 and a mean exposure age of 14.0±0.5 ka, which places a minimum-limiting age on when the ice field melted completely. We also applied a mass/energy-balance and ice-flow model to investigate the LGM climate of the western Uinta Mountains. Results suggest that temperatures were likely 5 to 7°C cooler than present and precipitation was 2 to 3.5 times greater than modern, and the western-most glaciers in the range generally received more precipitation when expanding to their maximum extent than glaciers farther east. This scenario is consistent with the hypothesis that precipitation in the western Uintas was enhanced by pluvial Lake Bonneville during the last glaciation.
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