Abstract

Five Neogene floras in southern Washington and northwest Oregon indicate that the uplift of the Cascade Range occurred after ∼8–6 Ma. Miocene floras west of the range (Wilkes and Faraday floras) resemble paleofloras of correlative age to the east (Rattlesnake Hills, Palouse Falls, and lower Ringold). The statistical similarity of Miocene floras east and west of the Cascade Range axis demonstrates that a similar mesic, warm climate across the Pacific Northwest existed during the Middle and Late Miocene. These floras represent mixed hardwood–conifer forests that commonly contained Taxodium (bald cypress) and other mesophytic taxa. Based on Jaccard similarity coefficients calibrated with climatic data from modern plant communities, these paleofloras indicate a climate that was summer–wet, unlike that of the Pacific Northwest today. The annual precipitation was >100 cm, and the estimated mean annual temperatures of the fossil sites were 12–13 °C. The Miocene floras indicate that the development of a Cascade rain shadow in eastern Washington did not develop until after the deposition of the lower Ringold Formation in eastern Washington. That conclusion is reinforced by a well-documented climate and sediment sequence in the Snake River Valley, Idaho. There, well-dated pollen sections record a sharp decrease (by ∼30%–50%) in the annual precipitation regime after the Late Miocene Banbury Basalt and Poison Creek formations and before ∼3.4 Ma. The existence of extensive late Ringold sediments uplifted on the north side of Saddle Mountain indicates that the structural lifting of the Cascade Range had begun by 3.1 Ma (Pliocene). These data all suggest that the lifting of the Cascades occurred after Miocene time, and that the Cascade rain shadow developed during the Pliocene.

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