Quantitative model-data comparison of mid-Holocene lake-level change in the central Rocky Mountains

  • Carrie MorrillEmail author
  • Evelyn Meador
  • Ben Livneh
  • David T. Liefert
  • Bryan N. Shuman


Recently-developed Holocene lake-level reconstructions from the Rocky Mountains offer a quantitative target for testing the skill of state-of-the-art climate system models in simulating hydroclimate change. Here, we use a combination of hydrologic models of catchment streamflow, lake energy balance, and lake water balance to simulate lake level at Little Windy Hill Pond (LWH) in the Medicine Bow Range of Wyoming for a period of severe drought during the mid-Holocene (MH; approximately 6000 years ago). Using Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) output to drive our hydrologic models, we find that none of our simulations reproduce the significantly lowered lake levels at LWH during the MH. Rather, simulated hydroclimate changes for the MH are modest (< 10% reductions in precipitation and streamflow and generally 10–30% increases in lake evaporation), and LWH lake-level changes are buffered by the large volume of snowmelt runoff that the lake receives. Only when winter precipitation is approximately halved in sensitivity experiments do water inputs to the lake become small enough that lake level can be significantly drawn down by year-over-year negative water balances. Possible explanations for the model-data mismatch could lie in the realism of our hydrological modeling framework or in the accuracy of the CMIP5 output, the latter having important implications for projections of future drying in western North America.


Lake level Water balance Streamflow Holocene North America Drought 



We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling and the Paleoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project for CMIP/PMIP model output. CM received support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office (Cooperative Agreement #NA17OAR4320101) and EM acknowledges funding from the NOAA Hollings Program. We thank Byron Steinman and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments.


  1. Ashfaq M et al (2017) Near-term acceleration of hydroclimatic change in the western US. J Geophys Res Atmos 118:10676–10693. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bao Q et al (2013) The flexible global ocean–atmosphere–land system model, spectral version 2: FGOALS-s2. Adv Atmos Sci 30:561–576. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barth C, Boyle DP, Hatchett BJ, Bassett SD, Garner CB, Adams KD (2016) Late Pleistocene climate inferences from a water balance model of Jakes Valley, Nevada (USA). J Paleolimnol 56:109–122. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bartlein PJ et al (1998) Paleoclimate simulations for North America over the past 21,000 years: features of the simulated climate and comparisons with paleoenvironmental data. Quatern Sci Rev 17:549–585. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beachkofski B, Grandhi R (2002) Improved distributed hypercube sampling. Am Inst Aeronaut Astronaut Pap. Google Scholar
  6. Benson L, Kashgarian M, Rye R, Lund S, Paillet F, Smoot J, Kester C, Mensing S, Meko D, Lindstrom S (2002) Holocene multidecadal and multicentennial droughts affecting Northern California and Nevada. Quatern Sci Rev 21:659–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger AL (1978) Long-term variations of caloric insolation resulting from the Earth’s orbital elements. Quatern Res 9:139–167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bohn TJ, Livneh B, Oyler JW, Running SW, Nijssen B, Lettenmaier DP (2013) Global evaluation of MTCLIM and related algorithms for forcing of ecological and hydrological models. Agric For Meteorol 176:38–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bowling LC, Lettenmaier DP (2010) Modeling the effects of lakes and wetlands on the water balance of Arctic environments. J Hydrometeorol 11:276–295. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cayan DR, Das T, Pierce DW, Barnett TP, Tyree M, Gershunov A (2010) Future dryness in the southwest US and the hydrology of the early 21st century drought. Proc Natl Acad Sci 107:21271–21276. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chen G-S, Kutzbach JE, Gallimore R, Liu Z (2011) Calendar effect on phase study in paleoclimate transient simulation with orbital forcing. Clim Dyn 37:1949–1960. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chen F et al (2014) Modeling seasonal snowpack evolution in the complex terrain and forested Colorado Headwaters region: a model intercomparison study. J Geophys Res Atmos 119:13795–13819. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coe MT, Harrison SP (2002) The water balance of northern Africa during the mid-Holocene: an evaluation of the 6 ka BP PMIP simulations. Clim Dyn 19:155–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cook BI, Ault TR, Smerdon JE (2015) Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains. Sci Adv 1:e1400082. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Das T, Pierce DW, Cayan DR, Vano JA, Lettenmaier DP (2011) The importance of warm season warming to western US streamflow changes. Geophys Res Lett 38:L23403. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dee S, Emile-Geay J, Evans MN, Allam A, Steig EJ, Thompson DM (2015) PRYSM: an open-source framework for PRoxY system modeling, with applications to oxygen-isotope systems. J Adv Model Earth Syst 7:1220–1247. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dee SG, Russell JM, Morrill C, Chen Z, Neary A (2018) PRYSM v.2.0: a proxy system model for lacustrine archives. Paleoceanogr Paleoclimatol. Google Scholar
  18. Demaria EM, Nijssen B, Wagener T (2007) Monte Carlo sensitivity analysis of land surface parameters using the variable infiltration capacity model. J Geophys Res Atmos 112:D11113. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dettinger M, Udall B, Georgakakos A (2015) Western water and climate change. Ecol Appl 25:2069–2093. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Diffenbaugh NS, Sloan LC (2004) Mid-Holocene orbital forcing of regional-scale climate: a case study of Western North America using a high-resolution RCM. J Clim 17:2927–2937.;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Easterling DR et al (2017) Precipitation change in the United States. In: Wuebbles DJ, Fahey DW, Hibbard KA, Dokken DJ, Stewart BC, Maycock TK (eds) Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, Volume I. US Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp 207–230.
  22. Elias SA (1996) Late Pleistocene and Holocene seasonal temperatures reconstructed from fossil beetle assemblages in the Rocky Mountains. Quatern Res 46:311–318. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fall PL (1997) Timberline fluctuations and late Quaternary paleoclimates in the Southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Geol Soc Am Bull 109:1306–1320.;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fall PL, Davis PT, Zielinski GA (1995) Late Quaternary vegetation and climate of the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Quatern Res 43:393–404. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fyfe JC et al (2017) Large near-term projected snowpack loss over the western United States. Nat Commun 8:14996. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gent PR et al (2011) The community climate system model version 4. J Clim 24:4973–4991. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giorgetta M et al (2013) Climate and carbon cycle changes from 1850 to 2100 in MPI-ESM simulations for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5. J Adv Model Earth Syst 5:572–597. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Graham NE, Hughes MK (2007) Reconstruting the Mediaeval low stands of Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, California, USA. Holocene 17:1197–1210. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gudmundsson L, Bremnes JB, Haugen JE, Engen-Skaugen T (2012) Downscaling RCM precipitation to the station scale using statistical transformations—a comparison of methods. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 16:3383–3390. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Harrison SP et al (2003) Mid-Holocene climates of the Americas: a dynamical response to changed seasonality. Clim Dyn 20:663–688. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hatchett BJ, Boyle DP, Putnam AE, Bassett SD (2015) Placing the 2012–2015 California-Nevada drought into a paleoclimatic context: Insights from Walker Lake, California-Nevada, USA. Geophys Res Lett 42:8632–8640. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hermann NW, Oster JL, Ibarra DE (2018) Spatial patterns and driving mechanisms of mid-Holocene hydroclimate in western North America. J Quat Sci 33:421–434. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hostetler SW (1991) Simulation of lake ice and its effect on the late-Pleistocene evaporation rate of Lake Lahontan. Clim Dyn 6:43–48. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hostetler SW, Bartlein PJ (1990) Simulation of lake evaporation with application to modeling lake level variations of Harney-Malheur Lake, Oregon. Water Resour Res 26:2603–2612. Google Scholar
  35. Hostetler SW, Benson LV (1994) Stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in the Truckee River-Pyramid Lake surface-water system. 2. A predictive model of d18O and d2H in Pyramid Lake. Limnol Oceanogr 39:356–364. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Johns TC et al (2006) The new Hadley Centre climate model HadGEM1: evaluation of coupled simulations. J Clim 19:1327–1353. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kageyama M et al (2013) Mid-Holocene and last glacial maximum climate simulations with the IPSL model—part I: comparing IPSL_CM5A to IPSL_CM4. Clim Dyn 40:2447–2468. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kelly P, Kravitz B, Lu J, Leung LR (2018) Remote drying in the North Atlantic as a common response to precessional changes and CO2 increase over land. Geophys Res Lett 45:3615–3624. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kimball JS, Running SW, Nemani RR (1997) An improved method for estimating surface humidity from daily minimum temperature. Agric For Meteorol 85:87–98. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Klos PZ, Link TE, Abatzoglou JT (2014) Extent of the rain–snow transition zone in the western US under historic and projected climate. Geophys Res Lett 41:4560–4568. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Korfmacher JL, Hultstrand DM, Doebley VT (2017) Glacier lakes ecosystem experiments site hourly meteorology tower data. Forest Service Research Data ArchiveGoogle Scholar
  42. Laird KR, Fritz SC, Grimm EC, Mueller PG (1996) Century-scale paleoclimatic reconstruction from Moon Lake, a closed-basin lake in the northern Great Plains. Limnol Oceanogr 41:890–902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laird KR, Fritz SC, Cumming BF (1998) A diatom-based reconstruction of drought intensity, duration, and frequency from Moon Lake, North Dakota: a sub-decadal record of the last 2,300 years. J Paleolimnol 19:161–179. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Li Y, Morrill C (2010) Multiple factors causing Holocene lake-level change in monsoonal and arid central Asia as identified by model experiments. Clim Dyn 35:1119–1132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Li L et al (2013) The flexible global ocean-atmosphere-land system model, Grid-point Version 2: FGOALS-g2. Adv Atmos Sci 30:543–560. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Liang X, Lettenmaier DP, Wood EF, Burges SJ (1994) A simple hydrologically based model of land surface water and energy fluxes for GSMs. J Geophys Res 99:14415–14428. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Liefert DT, Shuman BN, Parsekian AD, Mercer JJ (2018) Why are some Rocky Mountain lakes ephemeral? Water Resour Res 54.
  48. Livneh B et al (2013) A long-term hydrologically based dataset of land surface fluxes and states for the conterminous United States: update and extensions. J Clim 26:9384–9392. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Livneh B et al (2015) A spatially comprehensive, hydrometeorological data set for Mexico, the US, and Southern Canada 1950–2013. Sci Data 5:150042. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lorenz DJ, Nieto-Lugilde D, Blois JL, Fitzpatrick MC, Williams JW (2016) Downscaled and debiased climate simulations for North America from 21,000 years ago to 2100 AD. Sci Data 3:160048. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lute AC, Abatzoglou JT, Hegewisch KC (2015) Projected changes in snowfall extremes and interannual variability of snowfall in the western United States. Water Resour Res 51:960–972. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Maurer EP, Wood AW, Adam JC, Lettenmaier DP (2002) A long-term hydrologically based dataset of land surface fluxes and states for the conterminous United States. J Clim 15:3237–3251.;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Menking KM, Syed KH, Anderson RY, Shafike NG, Arnold JG (2003) Model estimates of runoff in the closed, semiarid Estancia basin, central New Mexico, USA. Hydrol Sci J 48:953–970. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Metcalfe SE, Barron JA, Davies SJ (2015) The Holocene history of the North American Monsoon: ‘known knowns’ and ‘known unknowns’ in understanding its spatial and temporal complexity. Quatern Sci Rev 120:1–27. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Miao X, Mason JA, Swinehart JB, Loope DB, Hanson PR, Goble RJ, Liu X (2007) A 10,000 year record of dune activity, dust storms, and severe drought in the central Great Plains. Geology 35:119–122. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Minckley TA, Shriver RK, Shuman BN (2012) Resilience and regime change in a southern Rocky Mountain ecosystem during the past 17000 years. Ecol Monogr 82:49–68. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Moriasi DN, Arnold JG, Van Liew MW, Bingner RL, Harmel RD, Veith TL (2007) Model evaluation guidelines for systematic quantification of accuracy in watershed simulations. Trans Am Soc Agric Biol Eng 50:885–900. Google Scholar
  58. Mote PW, Hamlet AF, Clark MP, Lettenmaier DP (2005) Declining mountain snowpack in western North America. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 86:39–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Munroe JS (2003) Holocene timberline and palaeoclimate of the northern Uinta Mountains, northeastern Utah, USA. Holocene 13:175–185. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Otto-Bliesner BL et al (2017) The PMIP4 contribution to CMIP6—Part 2: two interglacials, scientific objective and experimental design for Holocene and Last Interglacial simulations. Geosci Model Dev 10:3979–4003. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pausata FSR et al (2017) Greening of the Sahara suppressed ENSO activity during the mid-Holocene. Nat Commun 8:16020. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pierce DW, Cayan DR (2013) The uneven response of different snow measures to human-induced climate warming. J Clim 26:4148–4167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pribyl P, Shuman BN (2014) A computational approach to Quaternary lake-level reconstruction applied in the central Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, USA. Quatern Res 82:249–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rahman S, Munn LC, Zhang R, Vance GF (1996) Rocky Mountain forest soils: evaluating spatial variability using conventional statistics and geostatistics. Can J Soil Sci 76:501–507. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Reiter P, Gutjahr O, Schefczyk L, Heinemann G, Casper M (2018) Does applying quantile mapping to subsamples improve the bias correction of daily precipitation? Int J Climatol 38:1623–1633. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rotstayn LD et al (2010) Improved simulation of Australian climate and ENSO-related rainfall variability in a global climate model with an interactive aerosol treatment. Int J Climatol 30:1067–1088. Google Scholar
  67. Schmidt GA et al (2014a) Using paleo-climate comparisons to constrain future projections in CMIP5. Clim Past 10:221–250. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Schmidt GA et al (2014b) Configuration and assessment of the GISS ModelE2 contributions to the CMIP5 archive. J Adv Model Earth Syst 6:1–44. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shin S-I, Sardeshmukh PD, Webb RS, Oglesby RJ, Barsugli JJ (2006) Understanding the Mid-Holocene climate. J Clim 19:2801–2817. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Shinker JJ, Shuman BN, Minckley TA, Henderson AK (2010) Climatic shifts in the availability of contested waters: a long-term perspective from the headwaters of the North Platte River. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 100:866–879. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Shuman BN, Serravezza M (2017) Patterns of hydroclimatic change in the Rocky Mountains and surrounding regions since the last glacial maximum. Quatern Sci Rev 173:58–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Shuman BN, Pribyl P, Buettner J (2015) Hydrologic changes in Colorado during the mid-Holocene and Younger Dryas. Quatern Res 84:187–199. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Small EE, Sloan LC, Hostetler S, Giorgi F (1999) Simulating the water balance of the Aral Sea with a coupled regional climate-lake model. J Geophys Res 104:6583–6602. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Steinman BA, Rosenmeier MF, Abbott MB (2010) The isotopic and hydrologic response of small, closed-basin lakes to climate forcing from predictive models: simulations of stochastic and mean-state precipitation variations. Limnol Oceanogr 55:2246–2261. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Steinman BA, Abbott MB, Mann ME, Stansell ND, Finney BP (2012) 1,500 year quantitative reconstruction of winter precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. Proc Natl Acad Sci 109:11619–11623. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Steinman BA et al (2016) Oxygen isotope records of Holocene climate variability in the Pacific Northwest. Quatern Sci Rev 142:40–60. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Steponaitis E et al (2015) Mid-Holocene drying of the US Great Basin recorded in Nevada speleothems. Quatern Sci Rev 127:174–185. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Subin ZM, Riley WJ, Mironov D (2012) An improved lake model for climate simulations: model structure, evaluation, and sensitivity analyses in CESM1. J Adv Model Earth Syst 4:M02001. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thompson RS, Whitlock C, Bartlein PJ, Harrison SP, Spaulding WG (1993) Climatic changes in the western United States since 18,000 year B.P. In: Wright HE, Kutzbach JE, Webb T III, Ruddiman WF, Street-Perrott FA, Bartlein PJ (eds) Global climates since the last glacial maximum. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp 468–513Google Scholar
  80. Thornton PE, Running SW (1999) An improved algorithm for estimating incident daily solar radiation from measurements of temperature, humidity, and precipitation. Agric For Meteorol 93:211–228. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Vassiljev J, Harrison SP, Guiot J (1998) Simulating the Holocene lake-level record of Lake Bysjon, southern Sweden. Quatern Res 49:62–71. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Voldoire A et al (2013) The CNRM-CM5.1 global climate model: description and basic evaluation. Clim Dyn 40:2091–2121. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vose RS, Easterling DR, Kunkel KE, LeGrande AN, Wehner MF (2017) Temperature changes in the United States. In: Wuebbles DJ, Fahey DW, Hibbard KA, Dokken DJ, Stewart BC, Maycock TK (eds) Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, Volume I. US Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp 185–206.
  84. Watanabe S et al (2011) MIROC-ESM 2010: model description and basic results of CMIP5-20c3m experiments. Geosci Model Dev 4:845–872. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Williams JW, Shuman B, Bartlein PJ, Diffenbaugh NS, Webb IIIT (2010) Rapid, time-transgressive, and variable responses to early Holocene midcontinental drying in North America. Geology 38:135–138. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wu T et al (2013) Global carbon budgets simulated by the Beijing Climate Center Climate System Model for the last century. J Geophys Res 118:4326–4347. Google Scholar
  87. Yanto LB, Rajagopalan B, Kasprzyk J (2017) Hydrological model application under data scarcity for multiple watersheds, Java Island, Indonesia. J Hydrol Region Stud 9:127–139. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Yukimoto S et al (2012) A new global climate model of the Meteorological Research Institute: MRI-CGCM3. J Meteorol Soc Jpn 90A:23–64. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental SciencesUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental InformationBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Earth Sciences DepartmentUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  4. 4.Civil, Environmental and Architectural EngineeringUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  5. 5.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

Personalised recommendations