A 2650-year-long record of environmental change from northern Yellowstone National Park based on a comparison of multiple proxy data

Cathy Whitlock, Walter Dean, Joseph Rosenbaum, Lora Stevens, Sherilyn Fritz, Brandi Bracht, Mitchell Power

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33 Scopus citations


Geochemical, stable-isotope, pollen, charcoal, and diatom records were analyzed at high-resolution in cores obtained from Crevice Lake, a varved-sediment lake in northern Yellowstone National Park. The objective was to reconstruct the ecohydrologic, vegetation, and fire history of the watershed for the last 2650 years to better understand past climate variations at the forest-steppe transition. The data suggest a period of limited bottom-water anoxia, relatively wet winters, and cool springs and summers from 2650 to 2100 cal yr BP (700-150 BC). Dry warm conditions occurred between 2100 and 850-800 cal yr BP (150 BC and AD 1100-1150), when the lake was anoxic, winter precipitation was low, and summer stratification was protracted. The data are consistent with overall warmer/drier conditions during the Medieval Climate Anomaly, although they suggest a shift towards wetter winters within that period. The period from 850 to 800 cal yr BP (AD 1100-1150) to 250 cal yr BP (AD 1700) was characterized by greater water-column mixing and cooler spring/summer conditions than before. In addition, fire activity shifted towards infrequent large events and pollen production was low. From 250 to 150 cal yr BP (AD 1700-1800), winter precipitation was moderate compared to previous conditions, and the lake was again stratified, suggesting warm summers. Between 150 and 42 cal yr BP (AD 1800-1908), winter precipitation increased and spring and summer conditions became moderate. Metal pollution, probably from regional mining operations, is evident in the 1870s. Large fires occurred between ca. 1800-1880, but in general the forests were more closed than before. The Crevice Lake record suggests that the last 150 years of Yellowstone's environmental history were characterized by intermediate conditions when compared with the previous 2500 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-138
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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