The Truckee River in western Nevada has severely incised in response to a net 20 m of lake-level lowering of Pyramid Lake over the past 120 yr, leaving a suite of cut terraces that extend ∼15 km upstream from the lake where incision was arrested by bedrock in the channel. Channel planform changes and terrace development were mapped over a 70 yr period using rectified aerial imagery and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data in ArcGIS. Discrete point elevations were extracted from the LiDAR data for channel remnants on each of the different-aged terraces and combined with channel distance measurements derived from the appropriate aerial imagery to derive true channel gradients for each of the photo years. These same point elevation measurements were also resolved to a common valley distance (CVD), as is often done when studying prehistorical terrace sequences. Comparison of the true channel distance (TCD) profiles to the CVD profiles demonstrates that the TCD profiles are longer and less steep than the CVD profiles. These differences exist because resolving terrace elevations to a CVD does not account for decreasing sinuosities and straighter channel planforms through time.
As base level fell to its historical low elevation, the channel became steeper, straighter, and smoother, which increased the rate of sediment transport and delivery to Pyramid Lake. Over the past 120 yr, ∼60,000,000 m3 of sediment have been removed from the bed and banks of the lower river and redeposited in the lake, temporarily increasing the sedimentation rate. Larger trenches through deltaic and lacustrine deposits occupied by rivers and streams flowing into Pyramid Lake and other closed basins may reflect similar rapid responses to lowering base levels at times in the past. Therefore, lowering lake levels at Pyramid Lake and elsewhere during relatively dry times may be at least partly responsible for transient increases in sedimentation rates in lacustrine archives.