Southern California faces an imminent freshwater shortage. To better assess the future impact of this water crisis, it is essential that we develop continental archives of past hydrological variability. Using four sediment cores from Lake Elsinore in Southern California, we reconstruct late Holocene (∼3800 calendar years B.P.) hydrological change using a twentieth-century calibrated, proxy methodology. We compared magnetic susceptibility from Lake Elsinore deep basin sediments, lake level from Lake Elsinore, and regional winter precipitation data over the twentieth century to calibrate the late Holocene lake sediment record. The comparison revealed a strong positive, first-order relationship between the three variables. As a working hypothesis, we suggest that periods of greater precipitation produce higher lake levels. Greater precipitation also increases the supply of detritus (i.e., magnetic-rich minerals) from the lake's surrounding drainage basin into the lake environment. As a result, magnetic susceptibility values increase during periods of high lake level. We apply this modern calibration to late Holocene sediments from the lake's littoral zone. As an independent verification of this hypothesis, we analyzed δ18O(calcite), interpreted as a proxy for variations in the precipitation:evaporation ratio, which reflect first order hydrological variability. The results of this verification support our hypothesis that magnetic susceptibility records regional hydrological change as related to precipitation and lake level. Using both proxy data, we analyzed the past 3800 calendar years of hydrological variability. Our analyses indicate a long period of dry, less variable climate between 3800 and 2000 calendar years B.P. followed by a wet, more variable climate to the present. These results suggest that droughts of greater magnitude and duration than those observed in the modern record have occurred in the recent geological past. This conclusion presents insight to the potential impact of future droughts on the over-populated, water-poor region of Southern California.
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Kirby, M.E., Poulsen, C.J., Lund, S.P. et al. Late Holocene lake level dynamics inferred from magnetic susceptibility and stable oxygen isotope data: Lake Elsinore, southern California (USA). Journal of Paleolimnology 31, 275–293 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JOPL.0000021710.39800.f6
- Lake Elsinore
- Lake level
- Magnetic susceptibility
- Southern California