Climatic and limnologic setting of Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho

Walter E. Dean, Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh, Vincent A. Lamarra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Bear Lake is a large alkaline lake on a high plateau on the Utah-Idaho border. The Bear River was partly diverted into the lake in the early twentieth century so that Bear Lake could serve as a reservoir to supply water for hydropower and irrigation downstream, which continues today. The northern Rocky Mountain region is within the belt of the strongest of the westerly winds that transport moisture during the winter and spring over coastal mountain ranges and into the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains. As a result of this dominant winter precipitation pattern, most of the water entering the lake is from snowmelt, but with net evaporation. The dominant solutes in the lake water are Ca 2+ , Mg 2+ , and HCO 3 2- , derived from Paleozoic carbonate rocks in the Bear River Range west of the lake. The lake is saturated with calcite, aragonite, and dolomite at all depths, and produces vast amounts of carbonate minerals. The chemistry of the lake has changed considerably over the past 100 years as a result of the diversion of Bear River. The net effect of the diversion was to dilute the lake water, especially the Mg 2+ concentration. Bear Lake is oligotrophic and coprecipitation of phosphate with CaCO 3 helps to keep productivity low. However, algal growth is colimited by nitrogen availability. Phytoplankton densities are low, with a mean summer chlorophyll a concentration of 0.4 mg L -1 . Phytoplankton are dominated by diatoms, but they have not been studied extensively (but see Moser and Kimball, this volume). Zooplankton densities usually are low (<10 L -1 ) and highly seasonal, dominated by calanoid copepods and cladocera. Benthic invertebrate densities are extremely low; chironomid larvae are dominant at depths <30 m, and are partially replaced with ostracodes and oligochaetes in deeper water. The ostracode species in water depths >10 m are all endemic. Bear Lake has 13 species of fi sh, four of which are endemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Climatic and limnologic setting of Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this