Bear Lake, on the Idaho-Utah border, lies in a fault-bounded valley through which the Bear River flows en route to the Great Salt Lake. Surficial deposits in the Bear Lake drainage basin provide a geologic context for interpretation of cores from Bear Lake deposits. In addition to groundwater discharge, Bear Lake received water and sediment from its own small drainage basin and sometimes from the Bear River and its glaciated headwaters. The lake basin interacts with the river in complex ways that are modulated by climatically induced lake-level changes, by the distribution of active Quaternary faults, and by the migration of the river across its fluvial fan north of the present lake. The upper Bear River flows northward for ???150 km from its headwaters in the northwestern Uinta Mountains, generally following the strike of regional Laramide and late Cenozoic structures. These structures likely also control the flow paths of groundwater that feeds Bear Lake, and groundwater-fed streams are the largest source of water when the lake is isolated from the Bear River. The present configuration of the Bear River with respect to Bear Lake Valley may not have been established until the late Pliocene. The absence of Uinta Range-derived quartzites in fluvial gravel on the crest of the Bear Lake Plateau east of Bear Lake suggests that the present headwaters were not part of the drainage basin in the late Tertiary. Newly mapped glacial deposits in the Bear River Range west of Bear Lake indicate several advances of valley glaciers that were probably coeval with glaciations in the Uinta Mountains. Much of the meltwater from these glaciers may have reached Bear Lake via groundwater pathways through infiltration in the karst terrain of the Bear River Range. At times during the Pleistocene, the Bear River flowed into Bear Lake and water level rose to the valley threshold at Nounan narrows. This threshold has been modified by aggradation, downcutting, and tectonics. Maximum lake levels have decreased from as high as 1830 m to 1806 m above sea level since the early Pleistocene due to episodic downcutting by the Bear River. The oldest exposed lacustrine sediments in Bear Lake Valley are probably of Pliocene age. Several high-lake phases during the early and middle Pleistocene were separated by episodes of fluvial incision. Threshold incision was not constant, however, because lake highstands of as much as 8 m above bedrock threshold level resulted from aggradation and possibly landsliding at least twice during the late-middle and late Pleistocene. Abandoned stream channels within the low-lying, fault-bounded region between Bear Lake and the modern Bear River show that Bear River progressively shifted northward during the Holocene. Several factors including faulting, location of the fluvial fan, and channel migration across the fluvial fan probably interacted to produce these changes in channel position. Late Quaternary slip rates on the east Bear Lake fault zone are estimated by using the water-level history of Bear Lake, assuming little or no displacement on dated deposits on the west side of the valley. Uplifted lacustrine deposits representing Pliocene to middle Pleistocene highstands of Bear Lake on the footwall block of the east Bear Lake fault zone provide dramatic evidence of long-term slip. Slip rates during the late Pleistocene increased from north to south along the east Bear Lake fault zone, consistent with the tectonic geomorphology. In addition, slip rates on the southern section of the fault zone have apparently decreased over the past 50 k.y. Copyright ?? 2009 The Geological Society of America.
Additional Publication Details
Geology and geomorphology of Bear Lake Valley and upper Bear River, Utah and Idaho
Special Paper of the Geological Society of America