Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2000


Published in Quaternary Research 53:2 (March 2000), pp. 175-184; doi:10.1006/qres.1999.2115 Copyright © 2000 University of Washington; published by Academic Press/Elsevier. Used by permission.


Reconstructions of lake-water salinity at decadal resolution for the last 2,000 years are compared among three lakes in North Dakota to infer regional patterns of drought. The intersite comparisons are used to distinguish local variation in climate or hydrology from regional patterns of change. At one lake, diatom-inferred salinity and lake-water Mg/Ca inferred from ostracode shell chemistry are coherent, both in terms of direction and magnitude of change, indicating that each is a robust technique for reconstructing lake-water chemistry. The data show that the last 2,000 years have been characterized by frequent shifts between high and low salinity, suggesting shifts between dry and moist periods. Long intervals of high salinity suggest periods of multiple decades when droughts were intense and frequent, thus indicating times when drought was more persistent than in the 20th century. Both the Medieval Period and Little Ice Age were hydrologically complex, and there is no clear evidence to suggest that either interval was coherent or unusual in effective moisture relative to long-term patterns. Differences among the three sites may be attributed to variation in local hydrology, and these differences emphasize the need for multiple sites in deriving regional climate interpretations from paleoecological data.