Sedimentary constraints on late Quaternary lake-level fluctuations at Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho

Joseph P. Smoot, Joseph G. Rosenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


A variety of sedimentological evidence was used to construct the lake-level history for Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho, for the past ∼25,000 years. Shorelines provide evidence of precise lake levels, but they are infrequently preserved and are poorly dated. For cored sediment similar to that in the modern lake, grain-size distributions provide estimates of past lake depths. Sedimentary textures provide a highly sensitive, continuous record of lake-level changes, but the modern distribution of fabrics is poorly constrained, and many ancient features have no modern analog. Combining the three types of data yields a more robust lake-level history than can be obtained from any one type alone. When smooth age-depth models are used, lake-level curves from multiple cores contain inconsistent intervals (i.e., one record indicates a rising lake level while another record indicates a falling lake level). These discrepancies were removed and the multiple records were combined into a single lake-level curve by developing age-depth relations that contain changes in deposition rate (i.e., gaps) where indicated by sedimentological evidence. The resultant curve shows that, prior to 18 ka, lake level was stable near the modern level, probably because the lake was overflowing. Between ca. 17.5 and 15.5 ka, lake level was ∼40 m below the modern level, then fluctuated rapidly throughout the post-glacial interval. Following a brief rise centered ca. 15 ka ( = Raspberry Square phase), lake level lowered again to 15-20 m below modern from ca. 14.8-11.8 ka. This regression culminated in a lowstand to 40 m below modern ca. 12.5 ka, before a rapid rise to levels above modern ca. 11.5 ka. Lake level was typically lower than present throughout the Holocene, with pronounced lowstands 15-20 m below the modern level ca. 10-9, 7.0, 6.5-4.5, 3.5, 3.0-2.5, 2.0, and 1.5 ka. High lake levels near or above the modern lake occurred ca. 8.5-8.0, 7.0-6.5, 4.5-3.5, 2.5, and 0.7 ka. This lake-level history is more similar to records from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, and Owens Lake, California, than to those from Lake Bonneville, Utah.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-290
Number of pages28
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

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