U-series chronology of lacustrine deposits in Death Valley, California

Teh Lung Ku, Shangde Luo, Tim K. Lowenstein, Jianren Li, Ronald J. Spencer

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94 Citations (Scopus)


Uranium-series dating on a 186-m core (DV93-1) drilled from Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California, and on calcareous tufas from nearby strandlines shows that Lake Manly, the lake that periodically flooded Death Valley during the late Pleistocene, experienced large fluctuations in depth and chemistry over the last 200,000 yr. Death Valley has been occupied by a long-standing deep lake, perennial shallow saline lakes, and a desiccated salt pan similar to the modern valley floor. The average sedimentation rate of about 1 mm/yr for core DV93-1 was punctuated by episodes of more-rapid accumulation of halite. Arid conditions similar to the modern conditions prevailed during the entire Holocene and between 120,000 and 60,000 yr B.P. From 35,000 yr B.P. to the beginning of the Holocene, a perennial saline lake existed, over 70 m at its deepest. A much deeper and longer lasting perennial Lake Manly existed from about 185,000 to 128,000 yr B.P., with water depths reaching about 175 m, if not 330 m. This lake had two significant 'dry' excursions of 102-103 yr duration about 166,000 and 146,000 yr B.P., and it began to shrink to the point of halite precipitation between 128,000 and 120,000 yr B.P. The two perennial lake periods correspond to marine oxygen isotopic stages (OIS) 2 and 6. Based on the shoreline tufa ages, we do not rule out the possible existence ~200,000 yr ago of yet a third perennial lake comparable in size to the OIS 6 lake. The 234U/238U data suggest that U in tufa owes its origin mainly to Ca-rich springs fed by groundwater that emanated along lake shorelines in southern Death Valley, and that an increase of this spring-water input relative to the river-water input apparently occurred during OIS 6.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-275
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1998 Nov

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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