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Constraints on Paleoclimate from 11.5 to 5.0 ka from Shoreline dating and Hydrologic Budget Modeling of Baqan Tso, Southwestern Tibetan Plateau

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Tyler Huth*
Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Adam M. Hudson
Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Jay Quade
Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Lei Guoliang
College of Geographical Sciences, Fujian Normal University, Fujian 350007, China
Zhang Hucai
College of Tourism and Geography, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China
*Corresponding author. E-mail (T. Huth).


14C dating of shoreline deposits of closed-basin lake Baqan Tso in the western Tibetan Plateau shows that lake level regressed from the undated highstand (46 m above modern, 4.3 × modern surface area) of likely earliest Holocene age by 11.5 ka, and remained larger than modern until at least ≈ 5.0 ka. The shoreline record broadly matches other regional climate records, with lake level closely following Northern Hemisphere summer insolation overprinted by sub-millennial lake-level oscillations. A model coupling modern land runoff and lake surface heat closely reproduces estimated modern precipitation of ≈ 240 mm/yr. We estimate that the Baqan Tso basin required ≈ 380 mm/yr precipitation to sustain the maximum early Holocene lake area, a 55% increase over modern. Precipitation increases, not glacial meltwater, drove lake-level changes, as Baqan Tso basin was not glaciated during the Holocene. Our estimate assumes early Holocene insolation (≈ 1.3% overall increase), and mean annual increases of 2°C in temperature, and 37% in relative humidity. We additionally developed a Holocene precipitation history for Baqan Tso using dated paleolake areas. Using the modern and early Holocene model results as end-members, we estimate precipitation in the western Tibetan Plateau which was 300–380 mm/yr between 5.0 and 11.5 ka, with error of ± 29–57 mm/yr (± 12–15%).

Research Article
University of Washington

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