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Water-level change recorded in Lake Pac Chen Quintana Roo, Mexico infers connection with the aquifer and response to Holocene sea-level rise and Classic Maya droughts

Abstract

Pac Chen Lake is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and is ~ 42 km from the coast and ~ 22 km NE of Coba. It has an area of ~ 36,735 m2 and maximum depth of 25 m. Four sediment cores along a depth transect provide a 4-ka record of the evolution of the eastern deep basin (core PC1 at 25 m depth) and the shallow margin (cores PC2–4 at 0.25–5 m depth). PC1 shows the effect of water-level rise and flooding of the shallow margin (2.8–1.8 ka) through a lithological (organic to carbonate) and geochemical (μXRF; decreased Ti, Fe, K and Ca) change along with a reduction in sediment accumulation (~ 0.2927 to 0.0343 cm year−1). This change in sedimentation matches basal ages of PC2 and PC4 at 2.5 and 1.8 ka respectively, indicating water-level rise and flooding of the shallowly sloped margin which is within estimates of Holocene sea-level rise thus indicating connection with the aquifer. Corroborating evidence for connection with the aquifer comes from water-level monitoring (30 min intervals; 6 months December 12, 2018 to June 6, 2019) which shows a semi-diurnal tidal fluctuation (1–1.5 cm). Droughts have been thoroughly discussed as a proponent of the decline of the Classic Maya, with lakes being inferred to be isolated from the aquifer and experiencing water level drawdown. However, during the Classic Maya droughts lake drawdown in Pac Chen would be minimal, and there is no evidence of a water level drop in our lake margin stratigraphy (PC2–4). Water mass characteristics measured in March 2016 (temperature, conductivity) indicate some hydrological isolation from the aquifer. This isolation would have allowed for recording of environmental changes, but also likely changed through time as flooding of the lake progressed. The shallow margin core PC4, however, recorded several rapid drops in K and Fe from ~ 1100 to 975, and 925–875 yr BP, which we interpret as periods of reduced inputs of terrigenous weathering during times of reduced rainfall and runoff. These periods are consistent with other regional paleoclimate records (lake and speleothem) of the Classic Maya droughts (1200–850 yr BP).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Zero Gravity Dive Center and the Mexican Cave Exploration Project for dive support and logistics (esp. Fred Devos and Christophe LeMaillot). Special thanks to the owner Carlos Marín and Fabián Arriaga of Alltournative SA de CV for allowing access to the Pac Chen facility. Funding was provided by National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants (EGR—RGPIN/05725-2015, MS—RGPIN/37157-2015), National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1703087) and Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund (EGR—105-04523).

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Correspondence to Anya Krywy-Janzen.

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Krywy-Janzen, A., Reinhardt, E., McNeill-Jewer, C. et al. Water-level change recorded in Lake Pac Chen Quintana Roo, Mexico infers connection with the aquifer and response to Holocene sea-level rise and Classic Maya droughts. J Paleolimnol 62, 373–388 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10933-019-00094-0

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Keywords

  • Yucatan
  • Lake level change
  • Hydrology
  • Aquifer
  • Sea level
  • Holocene
  • Classic Maya droughts