Searles Lake, California, was a saline-alkaline lake that deposited >25 non-clastic minerals that record the history of lake chemistry and regional climate. Here, the mineralogy and petrography from the late Pleistocene/Holocene (32−6 ka) portion of a new Searles Lake sediment core, SLAPP-SRLS17, is combined with thermodynamic models to determine the geochemical and paleoclimate conditions required to produce the observed mineral phases, sequences, and abundances. The models reveal that the primary precipitates formed by open system (i.e., fractional crystallization), whereas the early diagenetic salts formed by salinity-driven closed system back-reactions (i.e., equilibrium crystallization). For core SLAPP-SRLS17, the defining evaporite sequence trona → burkeite → halite indicates brine temperatures within a 20−29 °C range, implying thermally insulating lake depths >10 m during salt deposition. Evaporite phases reflect lake water pCO2 consistent with contemporaneous atmospheric values of ∼190−270 ppmv. However, anomalous layers of nahcolite and thenardite indicate pulses of pCO2 > 700−800 ppm, likely due to variable CO2 injection along faults.
Core sedimentology indicates that Searles Lake was continuously perennial between 32 ka and 6 ka such that evaporite units reflect periods of net evaporation but never complete desiccation. Model simulations indicate that cycles of partial evaporation and dilution strongly influence long-term brine evolution by amassing certain species, particularly Cl−, that only occur in late-stage soluble salts. A model incorporating long-term brine dynamics corrects previous mass-balance anomalies and shows that the late Pleistocene/Holocene (32−6 ka) salts are partially inherited from the solutes introduced into earlier lakes going back at least 150 ka.