US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Climate Dynamics (1990) 4:207-217


Based on previous climate model simulations of a split of the polar jet stream during the late Pleistocene, we hypothesize that (1) 20-13.5 ka BP, season-toseason variation in the latitudinal maximum of the jet stream core led to enhanced wetness in the Great Basin, and (2) after 13.5 ka BP, northward movement of the jet stream resulted in increased aridity similar to today. We suggest that the enhanced effective wetness was due to increased precipitation combined with an energylimited reduction in evaporation rates that was caused by increased summer cloud cover. A physically based thermal evaporation model was used to simulate evaporation for Lake Lahontan under various hypothesized paleoclimates. The simulated evaporation rates, together with hypothetical rates of precipitation and discharge, were input to a water balance model of Lake Lahontan. A 42% reduction in evaporation rate, combined with maximum historical rates of precipitation (1.8 times the mean annual rate) and discharge (2.4 times the mean annual rate), were sufficient to maintain Lake Lahontan at its 20-15 ka BP level. When discharge was increased to 3.8 times the present-day, mean annual rate, the ~ 13.5 ka BP maximum level of Lake Lahontan was attained within 1400 years. A 135-m drop from the maximum level to Holocene levels was simulated within 300 years under the imposition of the present- day hydrologic balance.