Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 381–407 | Cite as

Reconstruction of paleoenvironments of the Great Salt Lake Basin during the late Cenozoic

  • Agata Kowalewska
  • Andrew S. Cohen


This study summarizes the results of micropaleontological, sedimentological, and isotope geochemical analyses of cuttings from five deep wells drilled in the Great Salt Lake (Utah, USA). Spanning the last 5.0 million yrs, our environmental history of the Great Salt Lake distinguishes four intervals based on paleobiological and sedimentological characteristics, using a previously developed tephrochronology for age control. For most of its history, the Great Salt Lake Basin has been occupied by a mixture of marsh, shallow lacustrine and sand flat conditions. In contrast, open lake conditions, typical of the Bonneville cycles and the modern Great Salt Lake apparently have only dominated the basin for the past 0.6-0.8 Ma. The two main structural basins in the study area (the North and South Basins) experienced different lacustrine histories. Large but frequently saline lakes occupied the North Basin after about 0.6 Ma. In the South Basin, ephemeral, saline lacustrine conditions started at 2.1 Ma and developed to full lacustrine conditions at 0.3 Ma. Our paleoenvironmental interpretations are broadly consistent with the aquatic palynological records from the same wells, as well as with the prior core- and outcrop-based lines of evidence. However, the differences in lake history between the North and South Basin have not been previously recognized.

paleolimnology ostracode paleoecology Great Salt Lake Pliocene Pleistocene 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Batten, D. J., 1996. Palynofacies and palaeoenvironmental interpretation. In Jansonius, J. & D. C. Mcgregor (eds), Palynology. Principles and Applications, 1011–1064. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, Salt Lake City, USA.Google Scholar
  2. Bradbury, J. P. & W. N. Krebs, 1982. Neogene and Quaternary lacustrine diatoms of the western Snake River Basin Idaho, Oregon, USA: Acta Geol. Acad. Sci. Hungaricae 25: 97–122.Google Scholar
  3. Cohenour, R. E. & K. C. Thomson, 1966. Geologic setting of the Great Salt Lake In The Great Salt Lake. Guidebook to the Geology of Utah. Utah Geological Society, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA 20: 35–57.Google Scholar
  4. Constenius, K. N., 1996. Late Paleogene extensional collapse of the Cordilleran foreland fold and thrust belt. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 108: 20–37.Google Scholar
  5. Cook, K. L., M. O. Halverson, J. P. Stepp & J. W. Berg Jr, 1964. Regional gravity survey of the northern Great Salt Lake Desert and adjacent areas in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 75: 715–740.Google Scholar
  6. Davis, O. K., 1996. Palynological evidence for vegetation cycles in a 1.5 million year pollen record from the Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA. Symposium on Long Continental Records, 9th IPC, Houston, Texas, June 1996, 1–13.Google Scholar
  7. Davis, O. K. & T. E. Moutoux, 1997. Tertiary and Quaternary vegetation history of the Great Salt Lake, Utah. J. Paleolimnol., in press.Google Scholar
  8. Davis, O. K. (in press) Late Neogene Environmental History. In Thompson, R. S. & D. Madsen (eds), Biotic and Hydroclimatic Perspectives on Great Basin Aquatic System History. Great Basin Symp., 1997, 7 pp.Google Scholar
  9. Delorme, L. D., 1970a. Freshwater ostracodes of Canada, part 1. Subfamily Cypridinae. Can. J. Zool. 48: 153–168.Google Scholar
  10. Delorme, L. D., 1970b. Freshwater ostracodes of Canada, part 2. Subfamilies Cypridopsinae and Herpetocypridinae, and family Cyclocyprididae. Can. J. Zool. 48: 253–266.Google Scholar
  11. Delorme, L. D., 1970c. Freshwater ostracodes of Canada, part 3. Family Candonidae. Can. J. Zool. 48: 1099–1127.Google Scholar
  12. Delorme, L. D., 1970d. Freshwater ostracodes of Canada, part 1. Families Ilyocyprididae, Notodromadidae, Darwinulidae, Cytherideidae, Entocytheridae. Can. J. Zool. 48: 1251–1259.Google Scholar
  13. Delorme, L. D., 1971a. Freshwater ostracodes of Canada, part 1. Families Limnocytheridae, Loxoconchidae. Can. J. Zool. 49: 43–64.Google Scholar
  14. Delorme, L. D., 1971b. Paleoecological determinations using Pleistocene freshwater ostracodes. In Paleoecology of ostracodes: Centre de Recherches de Pau, Societêe Nationale des Petroles d'Aquitaine, Bulletin 5: 341–347. Societêe Nationale Elf-Aquitaine, France.Google Scholar
  15. Dickinson, K. A. & F. M. Swain, 1967. Late Cenozoic freshwater Ostracoda and Cladocera from northeastern Nevada. J. Paleontol. 41: 335–350.Google Scholar
  16. Eardley, A. J., 1938. Sediments of the Great Salt Lake, Utah: Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 22: 1305–1411.Google Scholar
  17. Eardley, A. J. & V. Gvodesky, 1960. Analysis of Pleistocene core from Great Salt Lake, Utah. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 71: 1323–1344.Google Scholar
  18. Eardley, A. J., R. Shuey, V. Gvosdetsky, W. P. Nash, M. D. Picard, D. C. Grey & G. J. Kukla, 1973. Lake cycles in the Bonneville Basin, Utah. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 84: 211–215.Google Scholar
  19. Engstrom, D R. & S. R. Nelson, 1991. Paleosalinity from trace metals in fossil ostracodes compared with observational records at Devils Lake, North Dakota, USA. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclim. Palaeoecol. 83: 295–312.Google Scholar
  20. Forester, R. M., 1986. Determination of the dissolved anion composition of ancient lakes from fossil ostracodes. Geology 14: 796–798.Google Scholar
  21. Forester, R. M., 1991. Pliocene-climate history of the Western United States derived from lacustrine ostracodes. In Cronin, T. M. & H. J. Dowsett (eds), Pliocene climates. Quat. Sci. Rev. 10: 133–146.Google Scholar
  22. Gilbert, G. K., 1890. Lake Bonneville: U.S. Geological Survey Monograph 1: 1–275.Google Scholar
  23. Kimmel, P. G., 1982. Stratigraphy, age, and tectonic setting of the Miocene-Pliocene lacustrine sediments of the Western Snake River Plain, Oregon and Idaho. In: Bonnichsen, B. & R. M. Breckenridge (eds), Cenozoic Geology of Idaho. Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 26: 559–578.Google Scholar
  24. Lister, K. R., 1975. Quaternary freshwater Ostracoda from the Great Salt Lake Basin, Utah. The University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions 78: 1–34.Google Scholar
  25. Lister, K. R., 1976. Temporal changes in a Pleistocene lacustrine ostracode association; Salt Lake Basin, Utah. In Scott, R. W. & R. R. West (eds), Structure and Classification of Paleocommunities, Dowden, Hutchinson, Stroudsburg, Pa., USA, 193–211.Google Scholar
  26. McClellan, P. H., 1977. Paleontology and paleoecology of Neogene freshwater fishes from the Salt Lake Beds, Northern Utah. Unpublished MSc Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, California, 1–243.Google Scholar
  27. Mohapatra, G. K., 1996. Faulting and basin geometry beneath the Great Salt Lake: Implications for basin evolution and Cenozoic extension. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 1–159.Google Scholar
  28. Morrison, R. B., 1991, Quaternary stratigraphic, hydrologic, and climatic history of the Great Basin, with emphasis on Lake Lahontan, Bonneville and Tecopa. In Morrison, R. B. (ed.), Quaternary Nonglacial Geology; Conterminous U.S.: The Geology of North America K-2: 283–320. Geol. Soc. Am., Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
  29. Moutoux, T. E., 1995. Palynological and tephra correlations among deep wells in the modern Great Salt Lake, Utah, USA, implications for a Neogene through Pleistocene climatic reconstructions: Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 1–30.Google Scholar
  30. Moutoux, T. E. & O. K. Davis, 1995. Neogene through Pleistocene paleoclimate of the Great Salt Lake region, northeastern Great Basin, USA. In Isaacs, C. M. & V. L. Tharp (eds), Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Pacific Climate (PACLIM) Workshop: California Department of Water Resources Technical Report 40: 127–135.Google Scholar
  31. Oviatt, C. G. & D. R. Currey, 1987. Pre-Bonneville Quaternary lakes in the Bonneville Basin, Utah. In Kopp, R. S. & R. E. Cohenour (eds), Cenozoic Geology of Western Utah; Sites for Precious Metal and Hydrocarbon Accumulation: Utah Geol. Assoc. Pub. 16: 257–263, Utah Geological Association, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.Google Scholar
  32. Oviatt, C. G., D. R. Currey & D. M. Miller, 1990. Age and paleoclimatic significance of the Stansbury shoreline of Lake Bonneville, northeastern Great Basin. Quat. Res. 33: 291–305.Google Scholar
  33. Oviatt, C. G., D. Sack & D. R. Currey, 1994a. The Bonneville Basin, Quaternary, Western United States. In Gierlowski, K. E. & K. Kelts (eds), Global Geological Record of Lake Basins: World and Regional Geology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1: 371–375.Google Scholar
  34. Oviatt, C. G., G. D. Habiger & J. E. Hay, 1994b. Variation in the composition of Lake Bonneville marl: A potential key to lake-level fluctuations and paleoclimate. J. Paleolimnol. 11: 19–30.Google Scholar
  35. Oviatt, C. G., R. S. Thompson & A. P. Roberts, 1997. Plio-Pleistocene lakes in the Bonneville Basin. Geol. Soc. Am. Abst. w/ prog. 29: A254.Google Scholar
  36. Palacios-Fest, M. R., S. A. Cohen & P. Anadóon, 1994. Use of ostracodes as paleoenvironmental tool in the interpretation of ancient lacustrine records. Revista Espanola de Paleontologìa 9: 145–164.Google Scholar
  37. Peck, E. L. & E. A. Richardson, 1966, Hydrology and climatology of Great Salt Lake. In Stokes, L. (ed.), The Great Salt Lake. Utah Geol. Soc., Guidebook to the Geology of Utah, 20: 121–134.Google Scholar
  38. Quade, J., 1986. Late Quaternary environmental changes in the upper Las Vegas Valley, Nevada. Quat. Res. 20: 340–357.Google Scholar
  39. Reynolds, C. S. & S. E. Allen, 1968. Changes in the phytoplankton of Oak Mere, following the introduction of baserich water: British Phycological Bulletin 3: 451–462.Google Scholar
  40. Spencer, R. J., M. J. Baedecker, H. P. Eugster, R. M. Forester, M. Goldhaber, B. F. Jones, K. Kelts, J. McKenzie, D. B. Madsen, S. L. Rettig, M. Rubin & C. J. Bowser, 1984. Great Salt Lake, and precursors, Utah; the last 30 000 yrs. Cont. Mineral. Petrol. 86: 321–334.Google Scholar
  41. Swain, F. M., 1946. Middle Mesozoic nonmarine ostracoda from Brazil and New Mexico. J. Paleontol. 20: 543–555.Google Scholar
  42. Swain, F. M., 1947. Tertiary non-marine ostracoda from the Salt Lake Formation, northern Utah. J. Paleontol. 21: 518–528.Google Scholar
  43. Swain, F. M., 1964. Early Tertiary freshwater Ostracoda from Colorado, Nevada and Utah and their stratigraphic distribution. J. Paleontol.: 38: 256–280.Google Scholar
  44. Swain, F. M., 1974. Provincial aspects of some Neogene Ostracoda of the United States. In Paleogeographic Provinces and Provinciality: Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists Special Publication. Tulsa, OK, 21: 127–135.Google Scholar
  45. Swain, F. M., 1985. Some middle Cenozoic freshwater Ostracoda from western Nevada. Revista Espanola de Micropaleontologìia 17: 413–446.Google Scholar
  46. Swain, F. M., 1986a. Late Cenozoic non-marine Ostracoda from southern Idaho. Revista Espanola de Micropaleontologìia 18: 85–114.Google Scholar
  47. Swain, F. M., 1986b. Freshwater Ostracoda from the Cache Valley Formation (Pliocene) of southeastern Idaho. Revista Espanola de Micropaleontologìia 18: 363–385.Google Scholar
  48. Swirydczuk, K., B. H. Wilkinson & G. R. Smith, 1979. The Pliocene Glenns Ferry oolite: lake-margin carbonate deposition in the Southwestern Snake River Plain. J. Sed. Petrol. 49: 995–1004.Google Scholar
  49. Talbot, M. R., 1990. A review of the palaeohydrological interpretation of carbon and oxygen isotopic ratios in primary lacustrine carbonates. Chem. Geol. (Isotope Geoscience Section) 80: 261–279.Google Scholar
  50. Taylor, D. W. & R. C. Bright, 1987. Drainage history of the Bonneville Basin. In Kopp, R. S. & R. E. Cohenour (eds), Cenozoic Geology of Western Utah; Sites for Precious Metal and Hydrocarbon Accumulation. Utah Geological Association Publication 16: 239–256. Utah Geol. Assoc. Salt Lake City, UT, USA.Google Scholar
  51. Thompson, R. S., 1991. Pliocene environments and climates in the western United States. Quat. Sci. Rev. 10: 115–132.Google Scholar
  52. Thompson, R. S., 1996, Pliocene and early Pleistocene environments and climates of the western Snake River Plain, Idaho. Mar. Micropaleontol. 27: 141–156.Google Scholar
  53. Wood, S. H., 1994. Seismic Expression and Geological Significance of a lacustrine delta in Neogene deposits of the Western Snake River Plain, Idaho. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 78: 102–121.Google Scholar
  54. Xia, J., E. Ito & D. R. Engstrom, 1997. Geochemistry of ostracode calcite: Part I. An experimental determination of oxygen isotope fractionation. Geochem. Cosmochem. Acta 61: 377–382.Google Scholar
  55. Zippie, P., A. P. Welbourn & G. Norris, 1992. Peridinium and Pediastrum: paleo-indicators of Recent lake acidification. Palynology 16: 234–244.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Agata Kowalewska
    • 1
  • Andrew S. Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations