Proximity to ice fields and lake depth as modulators of paleoclimate records: a regional study from southwest Yukon, Canada

Guangjie Chen, Daniel T. Selbie, Katherine Griffiths, Jon N. Sweetman, Morgan Botrel, Zofia E. Taranu, Sébastien Knops, Jennifer Bondy, Neal Michelutti, John P. Smol, Irene Gregory-Eaves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Pronounced climate warming during the past century has been well documented in high-latitude regions. Nonetheless, considerable heterogeneity exists in northern climate trends. We examined the roles of cryospheric landscape and lake depth in modulating the rate and magnitude of local climate responses through a paleolimnological study of lakes from southwest Yukon, Canada. By sampling lakes at varying distances from the Wrangell-St. Elias ice fields, we hypothesized that, for lakes of similar maximum depth, sites closest to the ice fields would be relatively complacent in terms of their chironomid and diatom assemblage changes over the past ~200 years. This hypothesis is based on the moderating effect of the glaciers on local climate, which would be most pronounced in the lakes nearest to the ice fields. However, given the known ecological differences between deep and shallow lakes, we further predicted that, for a given distance from the ice fields, a sediment record from a shallower lake would show the greatest change in stratigraphic subfossil assemblages. Because of the complicated shape of the ice fields, we applied the longitude for each site (which decreases from west to east) to approximate the proximity of our study lakes to the ice fields. Consistent with our predictions, we observed a space-transgressive pattern in the chironomid assemblage turnover that was associated with their proximity to the ice fields (r = −0.75, P = 0.034, n = 8) across lakes of similar depth (mean maximum depth ± 1, SE = 18.1 ± 2.6 m). Considering a broader network of lakes that represented a greater range in maximum depth (4.9–29 m), we found that differences in subfossil chironomid assemblages between the modern and ca. AD 1800 sediment layers were strongly related to lake depth (r = −0.77, P < 0.001, n = 15), but failed to detect a significant relationship with latitude or longitude (i.e. our proxy for proximity to the ice fields). Similarly, our comparative high-resolution analyses of two lakes with distinct lake morphometries, but similar proximities to the ice fields, demonstrated the predicted contrasting pattern: we observed pronounced post-1880 changes in the biotic assemblages in the shallow lake and a muted and delayed response (i.e. ~1970s) in the deeper lake. Our findings confirm that cryospheric landscape features can strongly modulate regional climate. Furthermore, our work shows that investigators need to be conscious of how climate change affects the structure and functioning of lakes of different typologies, which influences the way in which paleoclimate signals are recorded and interpreted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-200
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes

Cite this