Earth and Planetary Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



Closed basin lakes provide important data on paleo- and modern environmental conditions because of their sensitivity to climate variability, particularly variations in precipitation. In arid and semi-arid regions throughout the world, playas play an important role in biological communities, agriculture, and as a major dust source when they are dry. The ability to monitor these lakes at a high temporal resolution is critical to understanding their response to climate variability as well as improving our interpretation of their paleoenvironmental record, yet such monitoring is currently conducted on few playas. There are several challenges to effectively monitoring playa systems, but the integrated use of Landsat and MODIS sensors allows a simple, reliable way to monitor rapidly changing playa lake inundation. This study produced long-term, high spatial resolution datasets as well as high temporal resolution datasets of playa lake inundation areas. The use of a single threshold and a single spectral band for each sensor provides the basis for continual and automatic monitoring of small, rapidly changing water bodies in arid regions. A dataset of this extent has not been compiled for a playa system like the pluvial Lake Palomas (PLP) playas. In addition, this study uses the inundation areas time series produced by the multi-scale remote sensing methodology to quantify previously unknown parameters of playa inundation in the PLP basin including the duration, peak area, seasonality and interannual variability of playa lake inundation. The location of sub-basins within the PLP basin and the geographic distribution of summer and winter precipitation cause distinct flooding patterns in individual playas. Effective precipitation must reach a specific threshold before inundation area can increase. High intensity precipitation that currently occurs primarily during the summer is required for initial inundation, and cool-season precipitation helps maintain lake areas during drier months. A larger realized catchment size during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene would have resulted in greater amounts of water from northern sub-basins that would be more sensitive to an increased frequency of Pacific frontal/westerly storms. These findings suggest that more frequent winter storms, as proposed for other regional Holocene highstands, may have produced enough effective precipitation to maintain large perennial lakes.

Degree Name

Earth and Planetary Sciences

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

First Committee Member (Chair)

Gutzler, David S.

Project Sponsors

-National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Earth Science Enterprise. -The University of New Mexico's Center for Rapid Environmental Assessment and Terrain Evaluation. -National Science Foundation's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive R




Remote Sensing, MODIS, Landsat, playa, lake area, inundation

Document Type