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Sedimentary record of annual-decadal timescale reservoir dynamics: Anthropogenic stratigraphy of Lake Powell, Utah, U.S.A.

March 28, 2022

The tributaries of Lake Powell were impounded following construction of Glen Canyon Dam, resulting in deposition of reservoir sediment over a ∼650 km2 area since 1963. These units have been exposed through erosion as water storage in Lake Powell has decreased since 2000. This anthropogenic sedimentary record reflects the complex interplay among wet and dry periods of Colorado River runoff and the reservoir operating rules of Lake Powell. The relevant sedimentary exposures are mapped at reconnaissance level over 300 river-km above Glen Canyon Dam in canyons of the Colorado, San Juan, Escalante, and Dirty Devil Rivers. A detailed reference section measured in Calf Canyon, a tributary to the Colorado River, preserves more than 12 m of lacustrine, mainstem Colorado River, and local tributary sediment in an up-river location and elevation that is determined to have been inundated only during the highest reservoir level periods. At Calf Canyon, exposed reservoir sediment is comprised of cyclic sand-mud interbeds that record periods of deposition when reservoir level was at or above full pool. Six depositional cycles are identified in Calf Canyon, and each of these is interpreted to represent rapid sand deposition during Colorado River flood events (likely related to spring snowmelt runoff) followed by deposition of lacustrine mud while reservoir levels were high. The lacustrine mud units display significant pedogenic modification, indicating exposure and colonization dominated by tamarisk plants, prior to deposition of the next sand unit. High-precision elevation surveys of the 6 main lacustrine marker beds in Calf Canyon are correlated to multiple lake level highstands between 1975 and 2000. Preliminary observations suggest that age-equivalent strata are widespread within the reservoir-affected zones of all major tributaries including the Colorado and San Juan River arms as well as the Escalante and Dirty Devil Rivers. We predict that future map- ping in other Lake Powell side canyons will demonstrate strong local control on sediment provenance, dictated by side canyon lithology, as well as time-transgressive deposition (and erosion) moving up and down the main canyons.