Holocene seasonal variability inferred from multiple proxy records from Crevice Lake, Yellowstone National Park, USA

Cathy Whitlock, Walter E. Dean, Sherilyn C. Fritz, Lora R. Stevens, Jeffery R. Stone, Mitchell J. Power, Joseph R. Rosenbaum, Kenneth L. Pierce, Brandi B. Bracht-Flyr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


A 9400-yr-old record from Crevice Lake, a semi-closed alkaline lake in northern Yellowstone National Park, was analyzed for pollen, charcoal, geochemistry, mineralogy, diatoms, and stable isotopes to develop a nuanced understanding of Holocene environmental history in a region of northern Rocky Mountains that receives both summer and winter precipitation. The limited surface area, conical bathymetry, and deep water (>31m) of Crevice Lake create oxygen-deficient conditions in the hypolimnion and preserve annually laminated sediment (varves) for much of the record. Pollen data indicate that the watershed supported a closed Pinus-dominated forest and low fire frequency prior to 8200calyr BP, followed by open parkland until 2600calyr BP, and open mixed-conifer forest thereafter. Fire activity shifted from infrequent stand-replacing fires initially to frequent surface fires in the middle Holocene and stand-replacing events in recent centuries. Low values of δ 18O suggest high winter precipitation in the early Holocene, followed by steadily drier conditions after 8500calyr BP. Carbonate-rich sediments before 5000calyr BP imply warmer summer conditions than after 5000calyr BP. High values of molybdenum (Mo), uranium (U), and sulfur (S) indicate anoxic bottom-waters before 8000calyr BP, between 4400 and 3900calyr BP, and after 2400calyr BP. The diatom record indicates extensive water-column mixing in spring and early summer through much of the Holocene, but a period between 2200 and 800calyr BP had strong summer stratification, phosphate limitation, and oxygen-deficient bottom waters. Together, the proxy data suggest wet winters, protracted springs, and warm effectively wet summers in the early Holocene and less snowpack, cool springs, warm dry summers in the middle Holocene. In the late Holocene, the region and lake experienced extreme changes in winter, spring, and summer conditions, with particularly short springs and dry summers and winters during the Roman Warm Period (~2000calyr BP) and Medieval Climate Anomaly (1200-800calyr BP). Long springs and mild summers occurred during the Little Ice Age, and these conditions persist to the present. Although the proxy data indicate effectively wet summer conditions in the early Holocene and drier conditions in the middle and late Holocene, none point specifically to changes in summer precipitation as the cause. Instead, summer conditions were governed by multi-seasonal controls on effective moisture that operated over multiple time scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-103
Number of pages14
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - May 1 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the support of J. Varley and T. Olliff (Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park) in providing funding and continued logistical support. Christy Briles assisted with age-model development. Field and coring assistance was provided by the YNP Fire Cache staff, L. Doner, J. Honke, G. Skipp. P. Bartlein provided Fig. 1 A and insolation anomaly data on Fig. 6 . D. McWethy and L. Anderson provided helpful reviews of an earlier version of the manuscript, and we received two helpful anonymous reviews. Funds from the Global Change and Climate History and Earth Surface Dynamics Programs of the U.S. Geological Survey , the Canon Foundation, and National Science Foundation ( EAR-0818467 ; OISE-0966472 to Whitlock; EAR-0816576 to Fritz; EAR-9905262 to Stevens and Fritz) supported this project.


  • Charcoal
  • Diatoms
  • Holocene
  • Inorganic geochemistry
  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Mineralogy
  • Pollen
  • Summer-wet climate
  • Varved sediments
  • Yellowstone National Park

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • CV01


Dive into the research topics of 'Holocene seasonal variability inferred from multiple proxy records from Crevice Lake, Yellowstone National Park, USA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this