Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Late Quaternary paleolimnology of Walker Lake, Nevada

January 1, 1989

Diatoms, crustaceans, and pollen from sediment cores, in conjunction with dated shoreline tufas provide evidence for lake level and environmental fluctuations of Walker Lake in the late Quaternary. Large and rapid changes of lake chemistry and level apparently resulted from variations in the course and discharge of the Walker River. Paleolimnological evidence suggests that the basin contained a relatively deep and slightly saline to freshwater lake before ca. 30 000 years B.P. During the subsequent drawdown, the Walker River apparently shifted its course and flowed northward into the Carson Sink. As a result, Walker Lake shallowed and became saline. During the full glacial, cooler climates with more effective moisture supported a shallow brine lake in the basin even without the Walker River. As glacial climates waned after 15 000 years ago, Walker Lake became a playa. The Walker River returned to its basin 4700 years ago, filling it with fresh water in a few decades. Thereafter, salinity and depth increased as evaporation concentrated inflowing water, until by 3000 years ago Walker Lake was nearly 90 m deep, according to dated shoreline tufas. Lake levels fluctuated throughout this interval in response to variations in Sierra Nevada precipitation and local evaporation. A drought in the Sierras between 2400 and 2000 years ago reduced Walker Lake to a shallow, brine lake. Climate-controlled refilling of the lake beginning 2000 years ago required about one millennium to bring Walker lake near its historic level. Through time, lake basins in the complex Lake Lahontan system, fill and desiccate in response to climatic, tectonic and geomorphic events. Detailed, multidisciplinary paleolimnologic records from related subbasins are required to separate these processes before lake level history can be reliably used to interpret paleoclimatology. ?? 1989 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1989
Title Late Quaternary paleolimnology of Walker Lake, Nevada
DOI 10.1007/BF00184000
Authors Bradbury J. Platt, R. M. Forester, R.S. Thompson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Paleolimnology
Index ID 70013167
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse