US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Quaternary International 215 (2010) 45–61.


New optically stimulated and radiocarbon ages for alluvial fan and lake deposits in the Mojave Desert are presented, which greatly improves the temporal resolution of surface processes. The new Mojave Desert climate-landscape record is particularly detailed for the late Holocene. Evidence from ephemeral lake deposits and landforms indicates times of sustained stream flow during a wet interval of the latter part of the Medieval Warm Period at ca. AD 1290 and during the Little Ice Age at ca. AD 1650. The former lakes postdate megadroughts of the Medieval Warm Period, whereas the latter match the Maunder Minimum of the Little Ice Age. Periods of alluvial fan aggradation across the Mojave Desert are 14–9 cal ka and 6– 3 cal ka. This timing largely correlates to times of increased sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of California and enhanced warm-season monsoons. This correlation suggests that sustained alluvial fan aggradation may be driven by intense summer-season storms. These data suggest that the close proximity of the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California promotes a partitioning of landscape-process responses to climate forcings that vary with seasonality of the dominant storms. Cool season Pacific frontal storms cause river flow, ephemeral lakes, and fan incision, whereas periods of intense warm-season storms cause hillslope erosion and alluvial fan aggradation. The proposed landscape- process partitioning has important implications for hazard mitigation given that climate change may increase sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of California, which indirectly could increase future alluvial fan aggradation.