US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 117 (1995) 1-30


US gov't work.


Most of the tufas in the Pyramid Lake subbasin were deposited within the last 35,000 yr, including most of the mound tufas that border the existing lake. Many of the older tufas (> 21,000 yr B.P.) contained in the mounds were formed in association with ground-water discharge. The radiocarbon (14C) ages of the older tufas represent maximum estimates of the time of their formation. Lake Lahontan experienced large and abrupt rises in level at ~ 22,000, 15,000, and 11,000 yr B.P. and three abrupt recessions in level at ~ 16,000, 13,600, and 10,000 yr B.P. The lake-level rises that were initiated at ~23,500 and 15,500 yr B.P. are believed to indicate the passage of the polar jet stream over the Lahontan basin. During expansion of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, the jet stream moved south across the basin, and during the contraction of the Ice Sheet, the jet stream moved north across the basin.

The bulk of the carbonate contained in the mound tufas was deposited during the last major lake cycle (~23,500-12,000 yr B.P.), indicating that ground- and surface-water discharges increased at ~23,500 and decreased at ~ 12,000 yr B.P. A lake-level oscillation that occurred between 11,000 and 10,000 yr B.P. is represented by a 2-cm thick layer of dense laminated tufa that occurs at and below 1180 m in the low-elevation tufa mounds and at 1205 m in the Winnemucca Lake subbasin.