The sediments in Pickerel Lake, northeastern South Dakota, provide a continuous record of climatic and environmental change for the last 12000 yr. Sediments deposited between 12 and 6 ka (radiocarbon) show extreme variations in composition, oxygen and carbon isotopic composition of bulk carbonate, carbon isotopic composition of organic matter, and magnetic susceptibility. These variations reflect changes in sources of moisture, regional vegetation types, precipitation-evaporation balance, ground- and surface-water influx, water residence time, erosion, lake productivity, water level, and water temperature. The total carbonate content of late Pleistocene sediments steadily increased from <20% at the base of the core to as much as 80% in sediments deposited between 11 and 9 ka. By about 8 ka, the total carbonate content of the sediments had declined to about 40% where it remained with little variation for the past 8 kyr, suggesting relatively stable conditions. There are marked increases in values of ??13C and ??18O in bulk carbonate, and ??13C of organic matter, in sediments deposited between 10 and 6 ka as evaporation increased, and the vegetation in the watershed changed from forest to prairie. This shift toward more 18O-enriched carbonate may also reflect a change in source or seasonality of precipitation. During this early Holocene interval the organic carbon (OC) content of the sediments remained relatively low (2-3%), but then increased rapidly to 4.5% between 7 and 6 ka, reflecting the rapid transition to a prairie lake. The OC content fluctuates slightly between 4 and 6% in sediments deposited over the past 6 kyr. Like OC and total carbonate, most variables measured show little variation in the 13 m of sediment deposited over the past 6 kyr, particularly when compared with early Holocene variations. Although the magnetic susceptibility of this upper 13 m of sediment is generally low (<10 SI units), the upper six meters of the section is marked by striking 1 m cycles (ca. 400-500 yr periodicity) in susceptibility. These cycles are interpreted as being due to variations in the influx of eolian detrital-clastic material. Century-scale cyclic variations in different proxy variables for aridity and eolian activity from sediments deposited over the past 2000 yr in other lakes in the northern Great Plains, as well as in sand dune activity, suggest that aridity cycles were the dominant feature of late Holocene climate of the northern Great Plains. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.