Do High-elevation Lakes Record Variations in Snowfall and Atmospheric Rivers in the Sierra Nevada of California?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jacob Ashford, James O Sickman and Delores M Lucero, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, United States
Understanding the underlying causes of interannual variation in snowfall and extreme hydrologic events in the Sierra Nevada is hampered by short instrumental records and the difficulties in reconstructing climate using a traditional paleo-record such as tree-rings. New paleo proxies are needed to provide a record of snowpack water content and extreme precipitation events over millennial timescales which can be used to test hypotheses regarding teleconnections between Pacific climate variability and water supply and flood risk in California. In October 2013 we collected sediment cores from Pear Lake (z = 27 m), an alpine lake in Sequoia National Park. The cores were split and characterized by P-wave velocity, magnetic susceptibility and density scanning. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the Pear Lake cores contain a 13.5K yr record of lake sediment. In contrast to other Sierra Nevada lakes previously cored by our group, high-resolution scanning revealed alternating light-dark bands (~1 mm to 5 mm thick) for most of the Pear Lake core length. This pattern was interrupted at intervals by homogenous clasts (up to 75 mm thick) ranging in grain size from sand to gravel up to 1 cm diameter. We hypothesize that the light-dark banding results from the breakdown of persistent hypolimnetic anoxia during spring snowmelt and autumn overturn. We speculate that the thicknesses of the dark bands are controlled by the duration of anoxia which in turn is controlled by the volume and duration of snowmelt. The sand to gravel sized clasts are most likely associated with extreme precipitation events resulting from atmospheric rivers intersecting the southern Sierra Nevada. We hypothesize that centimeter-sized clasts are deposited in large avalanches and that the sands are deposited in large rain events outside of the snow-cover period.