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ABSTRACT

Shorelines formed by terminal lakes record past changes in regional moisture budgets. In the western Great Basin of North America, winter precipitation accounts for nearly half of the annual total and is well correlated with northeast Pacific storm track activity and moisture transport. We evaluated these relationships and found that historical precipitation between 1910 and 2012 was better correlated to moisture transport (0.78, p < 0.01) than to storm track activity (0.54, p < 0.01) because moisture transport better captures dynamics associated with the Sierra Nevada rain shadow. We derived modern analogs of enhanced and reduced storm track activity and moisture transport from reanalysis products and used associated winter precipitation anomalies with these analogs as inputs to a coupled water balance and lake evaporation model of the Walker Lake basin. Simulated lake-level responses were compared with a radiocarbon-dated lakeshore chronology spanning the past 3700 yr. Wet analogs developed from winters in the 90th and 75th percentiles for storminess and moisture transport produced lake levels that exceeded estimated late Holocene highstands by 50 m. Dry analogs (10th and 25th percentiles) produced lake levels corresponding to Medieval megadrought lowstands. The twentieth century is shown to be as wet as any century in the past 3700 yr. Our results demonstrate the sensitivity of terminal lakes to winter season circulations and highlight the value of using moisture transport as a predictor of cool season precipitation and to evaluate how past or future changes in regional circulations will influence the water balance of dryland regions.

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