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Different types of biogenic remains, ranging from siliceous algae to carbonate precipitates, accumulate in the sediments of lakes and other aquatic ecosystems. Unicellular algae called diatoms, which form a siliceous test or frustule, are an ecologically and biogeochemically important group of organisms in aquatic environments and are often preserved in lake or marine sediments. When diatoms accumulate in large numbers in sediments, the fossilized remains can form diatomite. In sedimentological literature, “diatomite” is defined as a friable, light-coloured, sedimentary rock with a diatom content of at least 50%, however, in the Quaternary science literature diatomite is commonly used as a description of a sediment type that contains a “large” quantity of diatom frustules without a precise description of diatom abundance. Here we pose the question: What is diatomite? What quantity of diatoms define a sediment as diatomite? Is it an uncompacted sediment or a compacted sediment? We provide a short overview of prior practices and suggest that sediment with more than 50% of sediment weight comprised of diatom SiO2 and having high (>70%) porosity is diatomaceous ooze if unconsolidated and diatomite if consolidated. Greater burial depth and higher temperatures result in porosity loss and recrystallization into porcelanite, chert, and pure quartz.
Various paleoclimatic records have been used to reconstruct the hydrologic history of the Altiplano, relating this history to past variability of the South American summer monsoon. Prior studies of the southern Altiplano, the location of the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, and its neighbor, the Salar de Coipasa, generally agree in their reconstructions of the climate history of the past ∼24 ka. Some studies, however, have highly divergent climatic records and interpretations of earlier periods. In this study, lake-level variation was reconstructed from a ∼14-m-long sediment core from the Salar de Coipasa. These sediments span the last ∼40 ka. Lacustrine sediment accumulation was apparently continuous in the basin from ∼40 to 6 ka, with dry or very shallow conditions afterward. The fossil diatom stratigraphy and geochemical data (δ13C, δ15N, %Ca, C/N) indicate fluctuations in lake level from shallow to moderately deep, with the deepest conditions correlative with the Heinrich-1 and Younger Dryas events. The stratigraphy shows a continuous lake of variable depth and salinity during the last glacial maximum and latter stages of Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 3 and is consistent with environmental inferences and the original chronology of a drill core from Salar de Uyuni.
Because the 14C calibration curves IntCal and SHCal are based on data from temperate latitudes, it remains unclear which curve is more suitable for archaeological and paleoenvironmental records from tropical South America. A review of climate dynamics reveals a significant influx of Northern Hemisphere air masses and moisture over a substantial part of the continent during the South American Summer Monsoon (SASM). Areas affected by the SASM receive unknown amounts of input from both hemispheres, where an argument could be made for either curve. Until localized tree-ring data can resolve this, we suggest using a mixed calibration curve, which accounts for inputs from both hemispheres, as a third calibration option. We present a calibration example from a crucial period of environmental and cultural change in the southern Lake Titicaca. Given our current lack of data on past ∆14C variation in South America, our calibrations and chronologies will likely change in the future. We hope this paper spurs new research into this topic and encourages researchers to make an informed and explicit choice of which curve to use, which is particularly relevant in research on past human–environmental relationships.
High levels of biodiversity and endemism in ancient lakes have motivated research on evolutionary processes in these systems. Drill-core records from Lake Titicaca (Bolivia, Peru), an ancient lake in the high-elevation Altiplano, record the history of climate, landscape dynamics, and diatom evolution. That record was used to examine the patterns and drivers of morphological evolution of an endemic species complex of diatoms in the lake, the Cyclostephanos andinus complex. In an attempt to delineate species within the complex based on morphology, no discernible evidence was found for species separation based on an ordination analysis of multiple characters, but multiple populations were detected based on the distribution of valve size in individual samples. Likelihood modeling of phyletic evolution showed that size evolved through punctuated change. Correlation of size trends with environmental variables indicates that C. andinus size responded to regional environmental change driven by global processes that influenced Lake Titicaca by affecting lake level and thermal stratification.
A multidecadal-scale lake-level reconstruction for Lago Wiñaymarca, the southern basin of Lake Titicaca, has been generated from diatom species abundance data. These data suggest that ~6500 cal yr BP Lago Wiñaymarca was dry, as indicated by a sediment unconformity. At ~4400 cal yr BP, the basin began to fill, as indicated by the dominance of shallow epiphytic species. It remained somewhat saline with extensive wetlands and abundant aquatic plants until ~3800 cal yr BP, when epiphytic species were replaced by planktic saline-indifferent species, suggesting a saline shallow lake. Wiñaymarca remained a relatively shallow lake that fluctuated on a multidecadal scale until ~1250 cal yr BP, when freshwater planktic species increased, suggesting a rise in lake level with a concomitant decrease in salinity. The lake became gradually fresher, dominated by deep, freshwater species from ~850 cal yr BP. By ~80 cal yr BP, saline-tolerant species were rare, and the lake was dominated by freshwater planktic diatoms, resembling the fresh and deep lake of today. These results reveal a more dynamic and chronologically specific record of lake-level fluctuations and associated ecological conditions that provide important new data for paleoclimatologists and archaeologists, to better understand human-environmental dynamics during the mid- to late Holocene.
In the central Great Plains of North America, loess stratigraphy suggests that climate during the late Pleistocene was cold and dry. However, this record is discontinuous, and there are few other records of late-Pleistocene conditions. Cobb Basin, located on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sand Hills, contains lacustrine sediments deposited during Marine Isotope Stage 3, beginning approximately 45,000 cal yr BP and continuing for at least 10,000 yr. The lake was formed by a dune dam blockage on the ancient Niobrara River, and its deposits contain a diatom record that indicates changes through time in lake depth driven by changes in effective moisture. During the earliest stages of lake formation, the climate was arid enough to mobilize dunes and emplace dune sand into a blocking position within the Niobrara streambed. Diatom assemblages suggest that lake-level was shallow at formation, increased substantially during a wet interval, and then became shallow again, as arid conditions resumed. By about 27,000 cal yr BP the lake was filled, and a shallow ephemeral river occupied the basin.
Late-Holocene environmental and climatic conditions were reconstructed from diatom assemblages in sediment cores from four western Montana lakes: Crevice Lake, Foy Lake, Morrison Lake, and Reservoir Lake. The lakes show synchroneity in timing of shifts in diatom community structure, but the nature of these changes differs among the lakes. Two of the sites provide highly resolved records of hydrologic balance, while the other two stratigraphic sequences primarily record temperature impact on lake thermal structure. All four lakes show significant change in five discrete intervals: 2200–2100, 1700–1600, 1350–1200, 800–600, and 250 cal yr BP. The similarities in the timing of change suggest overlying regional climatic influences on lake dynamics. The 800–600 cal yr BP shift is evident in other paleorecords throughout the Great Plains and western US, associated with the transition from the Medieval Climate Anomaly to the Little Ice Age. Large-scale climatic mechanisms that influence these lake environments may result from atmospheric circulation patterns that are driven by interactions between Pacific and Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, which are then locally modified by topography.
A 136-m-long drill core of sediments was recovered from tropical high-altitude Lake Titicaca, Bolivia-Peru, enabling a reconstruction of past climate that spans four cycles of regional glacial advance and retreat and that is estimated to extend continuously over the last 370,000 yr. Within the errors of the age model, the periods of regional glacial advance and retreat are concordant respectively with global glacial and interglacial stages. Periods of ice advance in the southern tropical Andes generally were periods of positive water balance, as evidenced by deeper and fresher conditions in Lake Titicaca. Conversely, reduced glaciation occurred during periods of negative water balance and shallow closed-basin conditions in the lake. The apparent coincidence of positive water balance of Lake Titicaca and glacial growth in the adjacent Andes with Northern Hemisphere ice sheet expansion implies that regional water balance and glacial mass balance are strongly influenced by global-scale temperature changes, as well as by precessional forcing of the South American summer monsoon.
Despite the hypothesized importance of the tropics in the global climate system, few tropical paleoclimatic records extend to periods earlier than the last glacial maximum (LGM), about 20,000 years before present. We present a well-dated 170,000-year time series of hydrologic variation from the southern hemisphere tropics of South America that extends from modern times through most of the penultimate glacial period. Alternating mud and salt units in a core from Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia reflect alternations between wet and dry periods. The most striking feature of the sequence is that the duration of paleolakes increased in the late Quaternary. This change may reflect increased precipitation, geomorphic or tectonic processes that affected basin hydrology, or some combination of both. The dominance of salt between 170,000 and 140,000 yr ago indicates that much of the penultimate glacial period was dry, in contrast to wet conditions in the LGM. Our analyses also suggest that the relative influence of insolation forcing on regional moisture budgets may have been stronger during the past 50,000 years than in earlier times.
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.
Seismic stratigraphy, sedimentary facies, pollen stratigraphy, diatom-inferred salinity, stable isotope (δ18O and δ13C), and chemical composition (Sr/Ca and Mg/Ca) of authigenic carbonates from Moon Lake cores provide a congruent Holocene record of effective moisture for the eastern Northern Great Plains. Between 11,700 and 950014C yr B.P., the climate was cool and moist. A gradual decrease in effective moisture occurred between 9500 and 710014C yr B.P. A change at about 710014C yr B.P. inaugurated the most arid period during the Holocene. Between 7100 and 400014C yr B.P., three arid phases occurred at 6600–620014C yr B.P., 5400–520014C yr B.P., and 4800–460014C yr B.P. Effective moisture generally increased after 400014C yr B.P., but periods of low effective moisture occurred between 2900–280014C yr B.P. and 1200–80014C yr B.P. The data also suggest high climatic variability during the last few centuries. Despite the overall congruence, the biological (diatom), sedimentological, isotopic, and chemical proxies were occassionally out of phase. At these times the evaporative process was not the only control of lake-water chemical and isotopic composition.
A 2200-yr long, high-resolution (∼5 yr) record of drought variability in northwest Montana is inferred from diatoms and δ18O values of bio-induced carbonate preserved in a varved lacustrine core from Foy Lake. A previously developed model of the diatom response to lake-level fluctuations is used to constrain estimates of paleolake levels derived from the diatom data. High-frequency (decadal) fluctuations in the de-trended δ18O record mirror variations in wet/dry cycles inferred from Banff tree-rings, demonstrating the sensitivity of the oxygen-isotope values to changes in regional moisture balance. Low frequency (multi-centennial) isotopic changes may be associated with shifts in the seasonal distribution of precipitation. From 200 B.C. to A.D. 800, both diatom and isotope records indicate that climate was dry and lake level low, with poor diatom preservation and high organic carbon: nitrogen ratios. Subsequently, lake level rose slightly, although the climate was drier and more stable than modern conditions. At A.D. 1200, lake level increased to approximately 6 m below present elevation, after which the lake fluctuated between this elevation and full stage, with particularly cool and/or wetter conditions after 1700. The hydrologic balance of the lake shifted abruptly at 1894 because of the establishment of a lumber mill at the lake's outlet. Spectral analysis of the δ18O data indicates that severe droughts occurred with multi-decadal (50 to 70 yr) frequency.
A 90,000-yr record of environmental change before 18,000 cal yr B.P. has been constructed using pollen analyses from a sediment core obtained from Salar de Uyuni (3653 m above sea level) on the Bolivian Altiplano. The sequence consists of alternating mud and salt, which reflect shifts between wet and dry periods. Low abundances of aquatic species between 108,000 and 50,000 yr ago (such as Myriophyllum and Isoëtes) and marked fluctuations in Pediastrum suggest generally dry conditions dominated by saltpans. Between 50,000 yr ago and 36,000 cal yr B.P., lacustrine sediments become increasingly dominant. The transition to the formation of paleolake “Minchin” begins with marked rises in Isoëtes and Myriophyllum, suggesting a lake of moderate depth. Similarly, between 36,000 and 26,000 cal yr B.P., the transition to paleolake Tauca is also initiated by rises in Isoëtes and Myriophyllum; the sustained presence of Isoëtes indicates the development of flooded littoral communities associated with a lake maintained at a higher water level. Polylepis tarapacana-dominated communities were probably an important component of the Altiplano terrestrial vegetation during much of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and previous wet phases.
A simple mass balance model provides insight into the hydrologic, isotopic, and chemical responses of Lake Titicaca to past climatic changes. Latest Pleistocene climate of the Altiplano is assumed to have been 20% wetter and 5°C colder than today, based on previous modeling. Our simulation of lacustrine change since 15,000 cal yr B.P. is forced by these modeled climate changes. The latest Pleistocene Lake Titicaca was deep, fresh, and overflowing. The latest Pleistocene riverine discharge from the lake was about 8 times greater than the modern average, sufficient to allow the expansion of the great paleolake Tauca on the central Altiplano. The lake δ18O value averaged about −13‰ SMOW (the modern value is about −4.2‰). The early Holocene decrease in precipitation caused Lake Titicaca to fall below its outlet and contributed to a rapid desiccation of paleolake Tauca. Continued evaporation caused the 100-m drop in lake level, but only a slight (1–2‰) increase (relative to modern) in δ18O of early Holocene lake waters. This Holocene lowstand level of nearly 100 m was most likely produced by a precipitation decrease, relative to modern, of about 40%. The lake was saline as recently as 2000 cal yr B.P. The timing of these hydrologic changes is in general agreement with calculated changes of insolation forcing of the South American summer monsoon.
The centric diatom Stephanodiscus yellowstonensis Theriot and Stoermer is endemic to Yellowstone Lake, where it can be an important component of the summer phytoplankton assemblage. Its close relative, Stephanodiscus niagarae Ehrenberg, is abundant in nearby lakes and regional reservoirs. We used the stratigraphic record of Yellowstone Lake to investigate the evolution of S. niagarae to S. yellowstonensis and to describe the limnologic and climatic conditions associated with its evolution. A dramatic morphological shift took place between about 13.7 and 10.0 Ka, but morphology remained stable from 10 Ka to the present. Coincident with morphological change in the S. niagarae/S. yellowstonensis complex were changes in the diatom species assemblage, biogenic silica concentrations, sediment lithology, and regional vegetation. These changes suggest an environment that experienced progressive warming following the retreat of continental glaciers. We could not identify a specific selective factor driving evolution. Nevertheless, nonrandom morphological evolution strongly associated with continuous environmental change suggests that directional selection is a reasonable hypothesis to account for evolution of S. yellowstonensis. Protists are presumed to evolve gradually after speciation events because of large population size, high dispersal capacity, and low reproductive barriers. However, published diatom examples and the evolution of S. yellowstonensis suggest that it is premature to generalize about rates of evolution in protists, or at least to include diatoms in this generalization.
Lakes are intricately tied to the climate system in that their water level and chemistry are a manifestation of the balance between inputs (precipitation, stream inflow, surface runoff, groundwater inflow) and outputs (evaporation, stream outflow, groundwater recharge) (Mason et al., 1994). Hence, changes in the hydrologic budget, caused by either climatic change or human activity, have the potential to alter lake level and lake chemistry. These, in turn, may affect the physiological responses and species composition of the lake's biota, including those of diatoms. Here, we review the use of diatoms as indicators of hydrologic and climatic change, with an emphasis on environmental reconstruction in arid and semi-arid regions. First we discuss linkages among climate, hydrology, lake hydrochemistry, and diatoms that form the foundation for environmental reconstruction and then review selected examples of diatom-based studies.
LAKE HYDROLOGY AND HYDROCHEMISTRY
Lakes vary in their hydrologic sensitivity to climatic change (Winter, 1990). In basins with a surface outlet, lake-level increase is constrained by topography, and any change in input is usually balanced by outflow. Thus, in open basins, lake level fluctuates relatively little, unless hydrologic change is sufficiently large to drop water level below the outlet level. In contrast, closed-basin lakes, that is lakes without surface outflow, often show changes in level associated with changes in the balance between precipitation and evaporation (P – E). The magnitude of response to fluctuations in P – E depends on the relative contribution of groundwater inflow and outflow to the hydrologic budget; lake-level change is greatest in terminal basins, which have neither surface nor groundwater outflow.
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