Climatic and Limnologic Setting of Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Paleoenvironments of Bear Lake, Utah and Idaho, and Its Catchment


J. G. Rosenbaum and D. S. Kaufman


Geological Society of America

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climatic, limnologic, setting, Bear Lake, Utah, Idaho

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Bear Lake is a large alkaline lake on a high plateau on the Utah-Idaho border. The Bear River was partly diverted into the lake in the early twentieth century so that Bear Lake could serve as a reservoir to supply water for hydropower and irrigation downstream, which continues today. The northern Rocky Mountain region is within the belt of the strongest of the westerly winds that transport moisture during the winter and spring over coastal mountain ranges and into the Great Basin and Rocky Mountains. As a result of this dominant winter precipitation pattern, most of the water entering the lake is from snowmelt, but with net evaporation. The dominant solutes in the lake water are Ca2+, Mg2+, and HCO32−, derived from Paleozoic carbonate rocks in the Bear River Range west of the lake. The lake is saturated with calcite, aragonite, and dolomite at all depths, and produces vast amounts of carbonate minerals. The chemistry of the lake has changed considerably over the past 100 years as a result of the diversion of Bear River. The net effect of the diversion was to dilute the lake water, especially the Mg2+ concentration. Bear Lake is oligotrophic and coprecipitation of phosphate with CaCO3 helps to keep productivity low. However, algal growth is colimited by nitrogen availability. Phytoplankton densities are low, with a mean summer chlorophyll a concentration of 0.4 mg L−1. Phytoplankton are dominated by diatoms, but they have not been studied extensively (but see Moser and Kimball, this volume). Zooplankton densities usually are low (L−1) and highly seasonal, dominated by calanoid copepods and cladocera. Benthic invertebrate densities are extremely low; chironomid larvae are dominant at depthsm, and are partially replaced with ostracodes and oligochaetes in deeper water. The ostracode species in water depths >10 m are all endemic. Bear Lake has 13 species of fish, four of which are endemic.


Originally published by the Geological Society of America. Chapter fulltext available through remote link.