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Late Holocene paleohydrology of Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada

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We have gained new insight into the dynamic late Holocene paleohydrology and paleolimnology of Kluane Lake by reconstructing lakewater δ18O using sediment cellulose as an oxygen-isotope archive. Our data suggest that the lake was regularly open hydrologically between 5000 and 1000 cal year BP, although with substantially lower water levels and with greater evaporative loss in relation to inflow than under contemporary conditions. During part of this period the lake was meromictic and may have undergone intermittent hydrologic closure, but southward drainage to the Pacific Ocean via the Alsek River system was generally maintained. Isotopic evidence confirms that Kluane Lake underwent complete hydrologic closure 430–300 cal year BP (AD 1520–1650) after a major advance of Kaskawulsh Glacier blocked southward drainage. Closure persisted as the lake overtopped the Duke River fan, initiating northward drainage to the Bering Sea via the Yukon River system. Although incision of the new outlet channel led to a rapid decline in lake level, northward discharge via the Kluane River has been maintained for the past three centuries because of abundant inflow from the Slims River. Substantial quantities of glacial meltwater and seasonal runoff continue to drain via the Slims River from Kaskawulsh Glacier and its catchment in the St. Elias Mountains. During this period Kluane River has also become an important route for migrating anadromous salmon. The modern isotope hydrology of Kluane Lake confirms that its current positive water balance is highly dependent on discharge from Slims River. Declining glacial meltwater contributions to Slims River will likely lead to lower water levels in Kluane Lake over the coming decades and possible re-establishment of intermittent or perennial hydrologic closure.

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We thank Caren Küsel, Elizabeth Hall, and Sian Williams for valuable field and laboratory assistance. Research funding was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (Postgraduate Scholarship to Brahney; Discovery Grants to Clague, Edwards and Menounos), the Geological Society of America, and the Northern Scientific Training Program of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

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Correspondence to Janice Brahney.

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Brahney, J., Clague, J.J., Edwards, T.W.D. et al. Late Holocene paleohydrology of Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory, Canada. J Paleolimnol 44, 873–885 (2010).

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