Holocene extreme paleofloods and their climatological context, Upper Colorado River Basin, USA

Tao Liu, Lin Ji, Victor R. Baker, Tessa M. Harden, Michael L. Cline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Given its singular importance for water resources in the southwestern USA, the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) is remarkable for the paucity of its conventional hydrological record of extreme flooding. Short-term record-based flood frequency analyses lead to very great aleatory uncertainties about infrequent extreme flood events and their climate-driven causal associations. This study uses paleoflood hydrology to examine a small portion of the underutilized, but very extensive natural record of Holocene extreme floods in the UCRB. We perform a meta-analysis of 82 extreme paleofloods from 18 slack water deposit sites in the UCRB to show linkages between Holocene climate patterns and extreme floods. The analysis demonstrates several clusters of extreme flood activity: 8040–7960, 4400–4300, 3600–3460, 2900–2740, 2390–1980, 1810–720, and 600–0 years BP. The extreme paleofloods were found to occur during both dry and wet periods in the paleoclimate record. When compared with independent paleoclimatic records across the Rocky Mountains and the southwestern USA, the observed temporal clustering pattern of UCRB extreme paleofloods shows associations with periods of abruptly intensified North Pacific-derived storms connected with enhanced variability of El Niño. This approach demonstrates the value of creating paleohydrological databases and comparing them with hydro-climatic proxies in order to identify natural patterns and to discover possible linkages to fundamental processes such as changes in climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)727-745
Number of pages19
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Holocene
  • Paleofloods
  • Upper Colorado River Basin
  • climate change
  • extreme floods
  • meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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