Sedimentological parameters and stable O- and C-isotopic composition of marl and ostracode calcite selected from a 17.7-m-long core from the 8-m-deep center of Pickerel Lake, northeastern South Dakota, provide one of the longest (ca. 12ky) paleoenvironmental records from the northern Great Plains. The late Glacial to early Holocene climate in the northern Great Plains was characterized by changes from cold and wet to cold and dry, and back to cold and wet conditions. These climatic changes were controlled by fluctuations in the positions of the Laurentide ice sheet and the extent of glacial Lake Agassiz. We speculate that the cold and dry phase may correspond to the Younger Dryas event. A salinity maximum was reached between 10.3 and 9.5 ka, after which Pickerel Lake shifted from a system controlled by atmospheric changes to a system controlled by groundwater seepage that might have been initiated by the final withdrawal of Glacial Lake Agassiz. A prairie lake was established at approximately 8.7 ka, and lasted until about 2.2 ka. During this mid-Holocene prairie period, drier conditions than today prevailed, interrupted by periods of increased moisture at about 8, 4, and 2.2 ka. Prairie conditions were more likely dry and cool rather than dry and warm. The last 2.2 ka are characterized by higher climatic variability with 400-yr aridity cycles including the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. Although the signal of changing atmospheric circulation is overprinted by fluctuations in the positions of the ice sheet and glacial Lake Agassiz during the late Glacial-Holocene transition, a combination of strong zonal circulation and strong monsoons induced by the presence of the ice sheet and high insolation may have provided mechanisms for increased precipitation. Zonal flow introducing dry Pacific air became more important during the prairie period but seems to have been interrupted by short periods of stronger meridional circulation with intrusions of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. More frequent switching between periods of zonal and meridional circulation seem to be responsible for increased climatic variability during the last 2.2 ka.