The world-renowned Miocene Clarkia paleolake in northern Idaho (USA) is closely associated with Columbia River Basalt Group volcanism. The flood basalt dammed a local drainage system to form the paleolake, which preserved a plant fossil Lagerstätte in its deposits. However, the precise age and temporal duration of the lake remain unsettled. We present the first unequivocal U-Pb zircon ages from interbedded volcanic ashes at the P-33 type location, constraining the deposition to 15.78 ± 0.039 Ma. Using micro–X-ray fluorescence and petrographic and spectral analyses, we establish the annual characteristics of laminations throughout the stratigraphic profile using the distribution of elemental ratios, mineral assemblages, and grain-size structures, as well as organic and fossil contents. Consequently, the ~7.5-m-thick varved deposit at the type location P-33 represents ~840 yr of deposition, coincident with the end of the main phase of Columbia River Basalt Group eruptions during the Miocene Climate Optimum. The timing and temporal resolution of the deposit offer a unique opportunity to study climate change in unprecedented detail during global warming associated with carbon-cycle perturbations.

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