A sedimentary facies model for perennial and meromictic saline lakes: Holocene Medicine Lake Basin, South Dakota, USA

Blas L. Valero-Garcés, Kerry R. Kelts

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Medicine lake is a small (about 1 km2), shallow (up to 10 m deep), saline (50-170 g l-1) and meromictic lake formed after the retreat of the Wisconsin ice in the north American Great Plains. Based on a detailed sedimentological analysis of cores, we describe and interpret 13 sedimentary subfacies grouped in 9 associations which characterize the following lacustrine subenvironments: clastic littoral (freshwater and saline), springs, microbial mats, bench slope, and pelagial (oxic, alternating oxic-anoxic, anoxic and hypersaline, and organic-dominated). Lateral distribution and vertical evolution of subfacies in our model are controlled by climate fluctuations, climate-related limnological parameters (lake level, TDS and brine composition, and redox conditions), and autocyclic processes (progressive infilling of the basin and higher sedimentation rate in the pclagial realm). Microbial and chemical processes govern deposition in this system, and meromixis plays a decisive role in lake dynamics. Phototropic bacterial plate communites at the chemocline dominated as pelagial organic producers during stable meromictic periods, whereas benthic microbial communities developed during mixed water periods. Water stratification during the Holocene was mainly controlled by three parameters: 1) basin morphometry, 2) lake level, and 3) differences in TDS values between mixolimnion and monimolimnion waters. Sedimentary facies analyses is a powerful descriptive and interpretative tool that greatly contributes to deciphering the high resolution paleoenvironmental information archived in lake sequences. Depositional and paleoenvironmental models provide a dynamic framework for integrating paleolimnological data and other proxy paleorecords. Medicine lake serves as a facies model for shallow, perennial hypersaline, meromictic lakes in modern and ancient lacustrine basins. The sediment sequence from Medicine lake cores is consistent with the general paleoclimatic evolution of the northern Great Plains since the retreat of ice sheets. Our study reveals a plethora of rapid fluctuations in the water cycle both during the middle and the late Holocene. These augment prior paleoclimate reconstructions based on diatom studies of the lower Holocene freshwater to saline transition and on pollen profiles which show little variability during the subsequent long prairie grass episode.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-149
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1995

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2007 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Holocene
  • meromixis
  • Northern Great Plains
  • saline lake
  • sedimentology

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