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Hydrologic Variation in the Northern Great Plains During the Last Two Millennia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Sherilyn C. Fritz
Department of Geosciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588
Emi Ito
Department of Geology & Geophysics and Limnological Research Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455
Zicheng Yu
Department of Geology & Geophysics and Limnological Research Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455
Kathleen R. Laird
Department of Biology, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada
Daniel R. Engstrom
St. Croix Watershed Research Station, Science Museum of Minnesota, Marine-on-St. Croix, Minnesota 55047


Reconstructions of lake-water salinity at decadal resolution for the last 2000 yr are compared among three lakes in North Dakota to infer regional patterns of drought. The intersite comparisons are used to distinguish local variation in climate or hydrology from regional patterns of change. At one lake, diatom-inferred salinity and lake-water Mg/Ca inferred from ostracode shell chemistry are coherent, both in terms of direction and magnitude of change, indicating that each is a robust technique for reconstructing lake-water chemistry. The data show that the last 2000 yr have been characterized by frequent shifts between high and low salinity, suggesting shifts between dry and moist periods. Long intervals of high salinity suggest periods of multiple decades when droughts were intense and frequent, thus indicating times when drought was more persistent than in the 20th century. Both the Medieval Period and Little Ice Age were hydrologically complex, and there is no clear evidence to suggest that either interval was coherent or unusual in effective moisture relative to long-term patterns. Differences among the three sites may be attributed to variation in local hydrology, and these differences emphasize the need for multiple sites in deriving regional climate interpretations from paleoecological data.

Research Article
University of Washington

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