US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Quaternary Research 62 (2004) 29– 38; doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2004.04.002


Pollen and algae microfossils preserved in sediments from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, provide evidence for periods of persistent drought during the Holocene age. We analyzed one hundred nineteen 1-cm-thick samples for pollen and algae from a set of cores that span the past 7630 years. The early middle Holocene, 7600 to 6300 cal yr B.P., was found to be the driest period, although it included one short but intense wet phase. We suggest that Lake Tahoe was below its rim for most of this period, greatly reducing the volume and depth of Pyramid Lake. Middle Holocene aridity eased between 5000 and 3500 cal yr B.P. and climate became variable with distinct wet and dry phases. Lake Tahoe probably spilled intermittently during this time. No core was recovered that represented the period between 3500 and 2600 cal yr B.P. The past 2500 years appear to have had recurrent persistent droughts. The timing and magnitude of droughts identified in the pollen record compares favorably with previously published δ18O data from Pyramid Lake. The timing of these droughts also agrees with the ages of submerged rooted stumps in the Eastern Sierra Nevada and woodrat midden data from central Nevada. Prolonged drought episodes appear to correspond with the timing of ice drift minima (solar maxima) identified from North Atlantic marine sediments, suggesting that changes in solar irradiance may be a possible mechanism influencing century-scale drought in the western Great Basin.