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This study of fossils (pollen, plant macrofossils, stomata and fish) and sediments (lithostratigraphy and geochemistry) from the Wendel site in North Dakota, USA, emphasizes the importance of considering ground-water hydrology when deciphering paleoclimate signals from lakes in postglacial landscapes. The Wendel site was a paleolake from about 11,500 14C yr BP to 11,100 14C yr BP. Afterwards, the lake-level lowered until it became a prairie marsh by 9,300 14C yr BP and finally, at 8,500 14C yr BP, an ephemeral wetland as it is today. Meanwhile, the vegetation changed from a white spruce parkland (11,500 to 10,500 14C yr BP) to deciduous parkland, followed by grassland at 9,300 14C yr BP. The pattern and timing of these aquatic and terrestrial changes are similar to coeval kettle lake records from adjacent uplands, providing a regional aridity signal. However, two local sources of ground water were identified from the fossil and geochemical data, which mediated atmospheric inputs to the Wendel basin. First, the paleolake received water from the melting of stagnant ice buried under local till for about 900 years after glacier recession. Later, Holocene droughts probably caused the lower-elevation Wendel site to capture the ground water of upgradient lakes.