Holocene water levels of Silver Lake, Montana, and the hydroclimate history of the Inland Northwest

Meredith C. Parish, Kyra D. Wolf, Philip E. Higuera, Bryan N. Shuman

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5 Scopus citations


The wettest portion of the interior of western North America centers on the mountainous region spanning western Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and Alberta. Inland ranges there capture the remnants of Pacific storms. Steep east-west hydroclimate gradients make the region sensitive to changes in inland-penetrating moisture that may have varied greatly during the Holocene. To investigate potential hydroclimate change, we produced a 7600-yr lake-level reconstruction from Silver Lake, located on the Montana-Idaho border. Ground-penetrating radar profiles and a transect of four shallow-water sediment cores that were dated using radiocarbon dating and tephrachronology revealed substantial changes in moisture through time. An organic-rich mud unit indicating wet and similar to modern conditions prior to 7000 cal yr BP is overlain by an erosional surface signifying drier than modern conditions from 7000-2800 cal yr BP. A subsequent time-transgressive increase in water levels from 2800-2300 cal yr BP is indicated by a layer of late Holocene muds, and is consistent with glacier expansion and increases in the abundance of mesic tree taxa in the region. Millennial-scale trends were likely driven by variations in orbital-scale forcing during the Holocene, but the regional outcomes probably depended upon factors such as the strength of the Aleutian Low, Pacific sea-surface temperature variability, and the frequency of atmospheric rivers over western North America.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-66
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary Research (United States)
StatePublished - Nov 21 2022


  • Holocene
  • Hydroclimate
  • Inland Northwest
  • Lake level
  • Montana
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Paleoclimate


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