Ecosystem and Paleohydrological Response to Quaternary Climate Change in the Bonneville Basin, Utah
Scientific Drilling Project by DOSECC Core Drilling Services
Deborah P. Balch, Andrew S. Cohen and J. Warren Beck University of Arizona
Douglas W. Schnurrenberger University of Minnesota (currently at DOSECC)
Brian J. Haskell, Hai Cheng and R. Lawrence Edwards University of Minnesota
Blas L. Valero Garces Pyrenean Institute of Ecology
We report the results of a detailed paleoecological study of the Bonneville basin covering the last ~280,000 yr. Our study used fossil ostracodes and a sedimentological record obtained from the August 2000 GLAD800 drilling operation at Great Salt Lake. We analyzed 125 samples, taken at ~1 m intervals from Site 4 (GSL00-4), for ostracodes and other paleoecologic and sedimentologic indicators of environmental change. Multivariate analyses applied to the ostracode data and qualitative analyses of fossil and sedimentological data indicate an alternation between three major environments at the core site over the cored interval: (1) shallow saline or hypersaline lakes; (2) salt or freshwater marshes; and (3) occasional deep freshwater lakes. These environmental changes are consistent with shoreline studies of regional lake level fluctuations, but provide considerable new detail on both the timing and environmental conditions associated with the various lake phases. Our age model (using 14C, U-Series, tephra and biostratigraphic chronologies) allowed us to associate the core’s record of regional paleohydrology with the marine oxygen isotope stages of global climate change. The core contains continuous records for the last four glacial/interglacial sequences. Salt/freshwater marshes were common during the interglacials and deep freshwater conditions correspond with maximum global ice volume in OIS 2, and before a maximum in global ice during OIS 6. Immediately following deep lake phases, crashes in lake level from rapid desiccation resulted in the deposition of thick evaporite units. Our study suggests that the climate of the Great Salt Lake catchment appears to have been drier during OIS 6 than during OIS 2.We compare our record of environmental change during OIS 6 glaciation with other records from western United States and find that the overall pattern of climate was similar throughout the West, but differences in the timing of climate change (i.e. when a region became drier or moister) are common.
Figure 1 – GLAD800 drilling barge on the Great Salt Lake
In the late 1990s, the International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP) provided funds for DOSECC (the US nonprofit research consortium for continental scientific drilling) to develop a dedicated lake drilling system, designated the GLAD800 system. The intent of this grant was to jump start scientific drilling in lakes around the world with an inexpensive and modular system that would be easily transported between sites, and would be broadly accessible to the scientific community. This system, including a barge platform, drill rig and coring tool kit, was first tested with NSF support at the Great Salt Lake and Bear Lake in August 2000. The mandate from NSF was that all engineering tests of the GLAD-800 system be coupled to significant scientific questions, so that the testing would also yield scientific benefits. The long history of scientific (and specifically paleoclimate) research on the Great Salt Lake, coupled with DOSECC’s location in Salt Lake City, made the Great Salt Lake and Bear Lake natural targets for this testing.
Figure 2 – Drilling locations
The drilling campaign collected four long cores from the Great Salt Lake and obtained a total of 371 m of sediment with 96% recovery. One site in particular, GSL00-4 (also known as Site 4), reached 121 m below lake floor (mblf) and provides the longest continuous record of the lake’s history ever collected from a drilling operation. Drilling took place in the hanging wall of the Carrington Fault, which is located along the southeast margin of the lake’s northern basin (Fig. 1). The primary objective for drilling at this site was to obtain a detailed basinal history extending back to Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 6 and to use its paleontological and sedimentological contents to address questions related to paleoclimate. A preliminary study of the core, based on core catcher samples taken every 3 m (ca. 6000 yr resolution), suggested that Site 4 contains a high- resolution paleoecological record extending back ~250,000 yr BP based on tephra correlation and preliminary U-series dating (Dean et al., 2002). Paleoecological analyses of its ostracode assemblages, in particular, have shown that the lake levels have fluctuated over time giving rise to both marsh conditions and saline, open water conditions at the core site (Kowalewska and Cohen, 1998; Dean et al., 2002). Up to this point, we did not have detailed knowledge about these environmental fluctuations because the previous studies were at too low of a resolution. The goal of this current study was to explain these patterns in greater detail by accomplishing the following: (i) increase sampling frequency to improve resolution; (ii) resolve the chronological sequence of paleoecological and paleolimnological change through the acquisition of a reliable age model; and (iii) determine if these changes are correlated with changes in regional or global climate change, particularly at the glacial/interglacial time scale.
Figure 1 – Site 4 composite density and susceptibility graph
Site 4 contains a highly continuous paleoecological archive of Quaternary environmental and climate change. Our intermediate resolution sampling (~2,000 yr) is too coarse to capture the finer environmental fluctuations preserved in the core, however this study is a first step in unlocking the rich paleoenvironmental story of the Bonneville basin preserved at Site 4. Its paleoecological and sedimentological indicators show that the core site has fluctuated over time mostly between marsh and saline to hypersaline open-water conditions, but has, on occasion, been submerged in deep, freshwater. These local environmental changes can be understood in terms of oscillating lake levels. Our study confirms that climate forcing has played a major role in these lake level fluctuations and some, though not all, of the climatic fluctuations can be associated with changes in global ice volume. Overall, we see low to very low lake levels during the interglacial cycles (OIS 7, 5, 3 and 1). The lowest lake levels coincide with the presence of marsh indicators in the core’s sedimentary and paleoecological record. Saline/hypersaline conditions at the core site indicate regional lake levels higher than during marsh phases, but significantly lower than open freshwater conditions, such as the Little Valley cycle (mid OIS 6) and the Lake Bonneville cycle (late OIS 2). However, the climate of the Great Salt Lake catchment appears to have been drier during OIS 6 than during OIS 2. Thus, the high-resolution records and climate models from the last glacial advance may not serve as a good analog for the older glacial cycles. Many smaller lake level oscillations are recorded in Site 4, and with higher resolution sampling and a more robust age model, we may find that these smaller oscillations are sensitive to climate changes on millennial or shorter time scales. Oviatt (1997) found that some of the lake fluctuations associated with Lake Bonneville coincided with millennial scale Heinrich events. The sediments contained in Site 4 provide a detailed natural archive of (1) local environmental and ecological change at the core site (2) fluctuations in regional paleohydrology and (3) climate change over the last four glacial/interglacial sequences. This long, continuous record provides important insights into the paleoecology, paleohydrology and paleoclimate of the northeastern Great Basin, and will allow us the unique opportunity to link these insights into an interdisciplinary framework of past global change.
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