Unusual Holocene and late Pleistocene carbonate sedimentation in Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho, USA

Walter Dean, Joseph Rosenbaum, Gary Skipp, Steven Colman, Richard Forester, An Liu, Kathleen Simmons, James Bischoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Bear Lake (Utah-Idaho, USA) has been producing large quantities of carbonate minerals of varying mineralogy for the past 17,000 years. The history of sedimentation in Bear Lake is documented through the study of isotopic ratios of oxygen, carbon, and strontium, percent organic carbon, percent CaCO3, X-ray diffraction mineralogy, HCl-leach inorganic geochemistry, and magnetic properties on samples from three piston cores. Historically, the Bear River, the main source of water for Great Salt Lake, did not enter Bear Lake until it was artificially diverted into the lake at the beginning of the 20th century. However, during the last glacial interval, the Bear River did enter Bear Lake depositing red, calcareous, silty clay. About 18,000 years ago, the Bear River became disconnected from Bear Lake. A combination of warmer water, increased evaporation, and increased organic productivity triggered the precipitation of calcium carbonate, first as calcite. As the salinity of the lake increased due to evaporation, aragonite began to precipitate about 11,000 years ago. Aragonite is the dominant mineral that accumulated in bottom sediments of the lake during the Holocene, comprising an average of about 70 wt.% of the sediments. Aragonite formation in a large, cold, oligotrophic, high latitude lake is highly unusual. Lacustrine aragonite usually is found in small, saline lakes in which the salinity varies considerably over time. However, Bear Lake contains endemic ostracodes and fish, which indicate that the chemistry of the lake has remained fairly constant for a long time. Stable isotope data from Holocene aragonite show that the salinity of Bear Lake increased throughout the Holocene, but never reached highly evolved values of δ18O in spite of an evaporation-dominated water balance. Bear Lake hydrology combined with evaporation created an unusual situation that produced large amounts of aragonite, but no evaporite minerals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-112
Number of pages20
JournalSedimentary Geology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006

Bibliographical note

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


  • Aragonite
  • Calcite
  • Leach chemistry
  • Organic carbon
  • Oxygen, carbon, and strontium isotopes

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • GLAD1


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