Abstract

A study of Imuruk Lake, a large, shallow lake in north-central Seward Peninsula, Alaska, illuminates the climatic history of northwestern Alaska and the tectonic history of central Seward Peninsula during Pleistocene and Recent time. Special interest attaches to the older lake sediments, because they contain evidence concerning the climate, fauna, and flora that existed in the vicinity of Bering Strait at a time when the Bering land bridge was open and when animal and plant populations were being exchanged between the eastern and western hemispheres.

The lake is 8 miles long and less than 10 feet deep; bottom sediments consisting of reworked wind-blown silt bury a rolling bedrock topography of much greater relief. Analysis of the hydrologic regime indicates that much of the water draining into the lake is lost by evaporation; smaller quantities are lost by discharge through the outlet, the Kugruk River, and by leakage into the lava flows along the lake shore. Changes in the duration and temperature of the summer ice-free season would result in changes in the amount of water lost by evaporation and thus in appreciable changes in lake level.

Imuruk Lake occupies an initial low area on basaltic lava flows of Quaternary age, but the initial low area has been modified by faulting and now lies in a poorly defined graben. Topographic evidence confirmed by study of lacustrine terraces indicates that until recently Imuruk Lake drained westward into the Noxapaga River instead of eastward into the Kugruk River. A history of repeated warping of the lake basin, on which is superimposed a history of oscillating lake level which is due to changes in climate, is recorded by three systems of abandoned shore-line features found along the shores: a warped shore cliff of probable Illinoian age, a double set of warped terraces of probable Wisconsin age, and a low, horizontal terrace of Recent age. Bones of bison, horse, and mammoth were found in peaty sediments containing many twigs but no large wood; their presence indicates that these mammals, at least, were capable of surviving in a tundra environment during cold stages of the Pleistocene epoch and at a time when the Bering land bridge was in existence nearby.

The sediments filling the deeper parts of the bedrock basin of Imuruk Lake probably contain an uninterrupted pollen record that reflects vegetation changes in central Seward Peninsula beginning in middle Illinoian time and terminating a few thousand years ago. Core drilling and pollen analysis of these sediments would greatly amplify our understanding of late Pleistocene events in the vicinity of the Bering land bridge.

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