The water cycle in the western U.S. changed dramatically over glacial cycles. In the last 20,000 years, higher precipitation caused desert lakes to form which have since dried out. Higher glacial precipitation is hypothesized to result from a southward shift of Pacific winter storm tracks. We compared Pacific Ocean data to lake levels from the interior west and found that Great Basin lake high stands are older than coastal wet periods at the same latitude. Westerly storms were not the source of high precipitation. Instead, air masses from the tropical Pacific were transported northward, bringing more precipitation into the Great Basin when coastal California was still dry. The changing climate during the deglaciation altered precipitation source regions and strongly affected the regional water cycle.
Additional publication details
Out of the tropics: the Pacific, Great Basin lakes, and late Pleistocene water cycle in the western United States
American Association for the Advancement of Science