In 1996 a group led by the late Kerry Kelts (University of Minnesota) and Robert Thompson (U.S. Geological Survey) acquired three piston cores (BL96-1, -2, and -3) from Bear Lake. The coring arose from their recognition of Bear Lake as a potential repository of long records of paleoenvironmental change. They recognized that the lake is located in an area that is sensitive to changes in regional climate patterns (Dean et al., this volume), that the lake basin is long lived (see Colman, 2006; Kaufman et al., this volume), and that, unlike many lakes in the Great Basin, Bear Lake was never dry during warm dry periods.
Bear Lake lies in the northeastern Great Basin to the northeast of Great Salt Lake, just south of the Snake River drainage, and a short distance west of the Green River drainage that makes up part of the Upper Colorado River Basin (Fig. 1). Similarity among the historic Bear Lake and Great Salt Lake hydrographs and flows on the Green River indicates that the hydrology of Bear Lake reflects regional precipitation (Fig. 2). Therefore, paleorecords from Bear Lake are important to understanding past climate for a large region, including the Upper Colorado River Basin, the source of much of the water for the southwestern United States.
Initially, paleoenvironmental studies of Bear Lake sediments focused on cores BL96-1, -2, and -3. Additional coring was conducted to elucidate the spatial distribution of sedimentary units and to extend the record back in time. The study was also expanded to include extensive study of the catchment, including the properties of catchment materials and the processes that could potentially affect the delivery of catchment materials to the lake.
Cores BL96-1, -2, and -3 were taken with a Kullenburg piston corer along an east–west profile in roughly 50, 40, and 30 m of water, respectively (Table 1, Fig. 3). These three cores, each taken as a single 4- to 5-m-long segment, provide a nearly complete composite section from ca. 26 cal ka to the late Holocene. In 1998 a number of short gravity cores were taken from the uppermost water-rich sediments that were not sampled by the 1996 cores. During 2000, cores were taken with a percussion piston corer (manufactured by UWITEC) at three locations in and around Mud Lake and at two locations in the northern end of Bear Lake (Fig. 3). Cores acquired with the percussion corer comprise as many as three overlapping segments up to 2 m in length. In 2002, additional percussion piston cores and associated gravity cores of the uppermost sediments were acquired from five sites in the northern half of the lake. In conjunction with two of the cores collected in 2000, these cores form a north–south profile along a seismic line and span water depths from less than 10 m to ~40 m. Data from this profile provide much of the evidence for lake-level variations (Smoot and Rosenbaum, this volume). Finally, during 2000, two long cores, BL00-1D and -1E (collectively referred to here simply as BL00-1), were taken at a site near the depocenter during testing of the GLAD800 coring platform (Fig. 4; Dean et al., 2002). These cores provide a record back to ca. 220 ka.