During the Pliocene to middle Pleistocene, pluvial lakes in the western Great Basin repeatedly rose to levels much higher than those of the well-documented late Pleistocene pluvial lakes, and some presently isolated basins were connected. Sedimentologic, geomorphic, and chronologic evidence at sites shown on the map indicates that Lakes Lahontan and Columbus-Rennie were as much as 70 m higher in the early-middle Pleistocene than during their late Pleistocene high stands. Lake Lahontan at its 1400-m shoreline level would submerge present-day Reno, Carson City, and Battle Mountain, and would flood other now-dry basins. To the east, Lakes Jonathan (new name), Diamond, Newark, and Hubbs also reached high stands during the early-middle(?) Pleistocene that were 25-40 m above their late Pleistocene shorelines; at these very high levels, the lakes became temporarily or permanently tributary to the Humboldt River and hence to Lake Lahontan. Such a temporary connection could have permitted fish to migrate from the Humboldt River southward into the presently isolated Newark Valley and from Lake Lahontan into Fairview Valley. The timing of drainage integration also provides suggested maximum ages for fish to populate the basins of Lake Diamond and Lake Jonathan. Reconstructing and dating these lake levels also has important implications for paleoclimate, tectonics, and drainage evolution in the western Great Basin. For example, shorelines in several basins form a stair-step sequence downward with time from the highest levels, thought to have formed at about 650 ka, to the lowest, formed during the late Pleistocene. This descending sequence indicates progressive drying of pluvial periods, possibly caused by uplift of the Sierra Nevada and other western ranges relative to the western Great Basin. However, these effects cannot account for the extremely high lake levels during the early middle Pleistocene; rather, these high levels were probably due to a combination of increased effective moisture and changes in the size of the Lahontan drainage basin.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Extent of Pleistocene lakes in the western Great Basin