A high-resolution record of climate variability and landscape response from Kettle Lake, northern Great Plains, North America

Eric C. Grimm, Joseph J. Donovan, Kendrick J. Brown

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A decadal-scale multiproxy record of minerals, pollen, and charcoal from Kettle Lake, North Dakota provides a high-resolution record of climate and vegetation change spanning the entire Holocene from the northern Great Plains (NGP) in North America. The chronology is established by over 50 AMS radiocarbon dates. This record exhibits millennial-scale trends evident in other lower-resolution studies, but with much more detail on short-term climate variability and on the rapidity and timing of major climatic shifts. As a proxy for precipitation, we utilize the rate of endogenic carbonate sedimentation, which depends on groundwater inflow, which in turn depends on precipitation. Independent cluster analyses of mineral and pollen data reveal major Holocene mode shifts at 10.73 ka (ka = cal yr BP), 9.25 ka, and 4.44 ka. The early Holocene, 11.7-9.25 ka, was generally wet, with perhaps a trend to higher evaporation associated with warming temperatures. A switch from calcite to aragonite deposition associated with a severe, but brief drought occurred at 10.73 ka. From 10.73 ka to 9.25 ka, climate was generally humid but punctuated at 100-300 yr intervals by brief droughts, including the most severe drought of the entire Holocene at 9.25 ka. This event was coeval with the 9.3-9.2 ka event in the Greenland ice cores and observed at a number of sites worldwide. In contrast, the prominent 8.2 ka event in Greenland is not remarkable at Kettle Lake. The prominence of the 9.25 event locally in the NGP may be due to a major drawdown and northward retreat of Lake Agassiz at this time, reducing its mesoclimatic effect on the NGP and thrusting the region into an insolation controlled regime. The mid-Holocene, 9.25-4.44 ka, was characterized by great variability in moisture on a multi-decadal scale, with severe droughts alternating with more humid periods. The high abundance of the weedy but drought intolerant Ambrosia generally during the mid-Holocene and specifically during the multi-decadal drought periods is seemingly paradoxical, but can be explained by high interannual variability of moisture overlaid on the multi-decadal variability. The late Holocene, 4.44 ka-present, was also characterized by multi-decadal variability in moisture, but was generally wetter than the mid-Holocene and the magnitude of variability was less. The trends in wet-dry mineral, pollen, and charcoal proxies were similar to the mid-Holocene, but late Holocene mineral-pollen assemblages are distinct from mid-Holocene. The shift to wetter climate in the late Holocene was more gradual than the abrupt shift to arid conditions 9.25 ka, which may explain the asymmetric retreat and readvance of forest along the eastern margin of the NGP. Precipitation variations in the NGP have been linked with Pacific and Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, and mid-Holocene drought in the NGP has been linked with sustained La Niña-like conditions in the Pacific. These linkages may explain the decadal- and millennial-scale variations seen in the NGP, but cause of the prominent century-scale variations remains elusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2626-2650
Number of pages25
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number19-20
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
James S. Clark, George L. Jacobson Jr, Bryan Shuman and Wayne Lusardi assisted with collection of the cores. Jack Renton of WVU shared use of his XRD sample preparation laboratory. We thank Pietra Mueller, Barbara Hansen, and Vania Stefanova for assistance with laboratory work and pollen counting. Jamie West and Sarah Gach aided the tabulation of charcoal. The work benefited from extended discussions with and common interest of a number of colleagues: Jim Almendinger, James Clark, Dan Engstrom, Sheri Fritz, Emi Ito, Mark Shapley and Alison Smith. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation under Grants ATM-0214108 (to JJD) and ATM-0213246 (to ECG).

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • 9.3 ka event
  • Ambrosia
  • Aragonite
  • Charcoal
  • Endogenic carbonate precipitation
  • Holocene drought
  • Lake Agassiz
  • Northern Great Plains
  • Pollen
  • Selaginella densa


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