Extracting Holocene paleohydrology and paleoclimatology information from modern extreme flood events: An example from southern California

Yehouda Enzel*, Stephen G. Wells

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The extraction of paleohydrological and paleoclimatological information from a modern hydrological system, shown to represent unique and extreme hydroclimatological conditions, is illustrated by an example from the Mojave River drainage basin in southern California. The Mojave River allows only the most extreme floods to reach its terminal basin in the Silver Lake playa and to form ephemeral lakes. All the other floods are lost by transmission into the alluvial aquifer along its 200 km channel. This filtering out of regular floods by the river provides an essential tool in establishing a physical link between atmospheric and hydrologic conditions. We demonstrate such a link between anomalous, present-day atmospheric circulation patterns over the North Pacific Ocean, extreme storms in southern California that produced the heaviest precipitation on record, the largest floods of record in the Mojave River watershed, and ephemeral lakes in its terminal playa. This physical link determines the possible cause of the formations of perennial, short-duration, shallow lakes in Silver Lake playa during the late Holocene and characterizes the hydroclimatic conditions that prevailed during these lacustrine episodes. Hydrological simulations of this river and its filtering character demonstrate that these lakes could have formed only if the most extreme modern storms and floods were more frequent in at least an order of magnitude during specific time episodes. We conclude that such extreme hydroclimatic conditions occurred more frequent in past episodes during which the Holocene lakes formed. In turn, this conclusion indicates that the cause of these storms and floods, i.e. the anomalous atmospheric circulation pattern, must have been more frequent. This research outlines a way to extract information on Holocene climates in hydrologie settings that demonstrate a unique cause and effect relationship.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)203-226
Number of pages24
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 1997


  • Floods
  • Holocene
  • Hydroclimatology
  • Mojave Desert
  • Paleohydrology


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