Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geography & Geographic Information Science

First Advisor

Paul Todhunter


The Devils Lake Basin is a sub-basin of the larger Red River Basin located in east-central North Dakota. It is a terminal saline lake, which lacks an outlet until the lake level reaches a water surface elevation (WSE) of 1,458 ft asl (444.4 m). Lake levels have fluctuated continuously since the last glaciation, in response to natural climatic variations. The lake has risen steadily since 1993, severely affecting the infrastructure and residents living within the area. There has been much debate over whether the rising waters are caused by natural climatic variations or by the drainage of wetlands and agricultural lands in the upper basin for agricultural purposes. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between atmospheric circulation anomalies and historical water surface elevation fluctuations. Two independent datasets are used: the Spatial Synoptic Classification and the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis datasets of precipitable water and 700 mb (hPa) geopotential height. The results from the two independent datasets show a small and inconsistent link between atmospheric circulation patterns and the water surface elevation changes. Some of the selected surge and drawdown years show physically consistent relationships to each of the datasets, but many of the results are inconclusive in establishing a conclusive relationship between historic water surface elevation changes and atmospheric circulation anomalies.