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Visualizing the Extent of Prehistoric Lake Bonneville

The Map of the Week for November 13th examines the physical extent of the prehistoric pluvial lake known as Lake Bonneville, which covered most of the Utah territory until approximately 14,500 years ago. Through this interactive application, viewers have the opportunity to examine the depth and extent of Lake Bonneville 3-dimensionally in comparison to features and locations found today. #MapMonday

Visualizing the Extent of Prehistoric Lake Bonneville

Lake Bonneville was a prehistoric pluvial lake that formed approximately 32,000 years ago and existing until approximately 14,500 years ago. The massive water body (approximately 32,000 square miles) covered most of the Utah territory with depths in areas measuring more than 1,000 feet. Lake Bonneville was the result of low temperatures, decreased evaporation, and high precipitation throughout the region; however, it was susceptible to climate change and is believed to have evaporated and reformed up to 28 times over an 800,000 year period.

Approximately 14,500 years ago, a catastrophic flood took place at the natural dam structure known as Red Rock Pass. Increasing water levels and seepage at the dam resulted in structural collapse, producing a 410-foot wall of water spread throughout the Portneuf River Valley and into adjacent valleys along the path. Many geological features found in the flood path are the result of this catastrophic event, believed to be the second largest in known geologic history. Today, we find remnants of prehistoric Lake Bonneville in the forms of the Great Salt Lake, Utah Lake, and Sevier Lake with indications of the shoreline extent along the Wasatch Front.

About Map of the Weeks from GIS Services:

Throughout the semester, GIS Services will continue releasing bi-weekly maps on a variety of topics for the purpose of demonstrating ideas and uses for incorporating geospatial technology into research and projects you are developing. To view our collection of maps, projects or to learn about the geospatial services offered through the Marriott Library, please visit the GIS Services website @

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services

    Posted at 20:49h, 25 August Reply

    I’d like to see a contemporary road map with a Bonneville shoreline.

  • Patrick D Crowe
    Posted at 21:41h, 09 April Reply

    This is fabulous! I’ve always wanted to see a map like this of the ancient lake! Thank you!!

  • Tim D Treanor DC
    Posted at 14:35h, 14 April Reply

    So, what would have the lake REALLY looked like had the surrounding topography been much different. Example: The Wasatch Front/Rocky mountains were at the bottom of a large valley or a vast network of valleys? What if the borders were actually as far east as Kansas and far west as California foothills?

  • John Mousekawitz
    Posted at 19:53h, 16 July Reply

    Just here because of Cougarboard

  • Amanda Stedt
    Posted at 06:31h, 09 November Reply

    The lake was bigger than what’s actually mapped. I’ve picked up fossilized sea shells at elevations of 6000’ in places that map shows were land.

  • Brian Prince
    Posted at 17:59h, 12 July Reply

    This is very cool. It would be even better if you could toggle between the various lake levels over time, I’d be interested to see the Provo level of the lake after the Bonneville flood event.

  • Gayle
    Posted at 00:45h, 24 September Reply

    So climate change IS real?? But I don’t think we humans can do much about it. It’s been happening the last 14,,000 years!!

  • Marie
    Posted at 08:19h, 05 November Reply

    In response to Gayle: of course “climate change” is real! The earth is a living organism, and all of life is about change. That is the beauty of it all!

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