Holocene Hydroclimate of Western North America

Science Center Objects

The objectives of this project are to reconstruct detailed histories of Holocene hydroclimate and corresponding environmental change from geological archives such as lake sediment, peat, and wood to more fully understand past, ongoing, and future change and its impacts.

Scientists and collaborators obtain lake sediment cores from the lake ice in Alaska in early spring.

Project scientists and collaborators obtain lake sediment cores from the lake ice in Alaska in early spring. Geochemical climate proxies obtained from lake sediments document climate change and impacts over the past ~10,000 years and provide a long-term context to more fully understand past, ongoing and future change. (Credit: Lesleigh Anderson, USGS GECSC. Public domain.)

Study sites for this research are located in the intermountain regions of western North America, including Alaska. The overarching research goal is to develop a spatial network of hydroclimatic records for the past ~10,000 years (The Holocene) that have the ability to detect climate change on decade-to-century time scales. These data are used to investigate past large-scale atmosphere-ocean dynamics that are known to currently influence western U.S. water availability. Several proxy methods are utilized with primary emphasis on isotope geochemistry of lake sediments, fossil moss and wood. Results lead to better understanding of the full range of potential climate states during the most recent period in earth's history with similar global boundary conditions as the pre-industrial period.

Why is this research important?

Documenting past climate, landscapes and ecosystems provides the necessary long-term context to better understand the changes in earth systems taking place today. This project provides a comparable long-term perspective of water availability. Examples of questions addressed by this project are:

  • What is the Holocene range of Rocky Mountain precipitation variability and how has it varied seasonally in space and time?
  • What is the Holocene range of temperature and precipitation variability in Alaska and how do past variations relate to Rocky Mountain patterns?
  • What is the Holocene range of North American Monsoon dynamics and how have they influenced the seasonal balance of precipitation and drought in the west?