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Evaluating the influence of lake morphology, trophic status and diagenesis on geochemical profiles in lake sediments

Recent geochemical studies provide evidence that changes in vertical distributions of nutrients in lake sediments are driven by anthropogenic activities, based primarily on trends of increasing concentrations in upper sediment layers. However, we show that vertical concentration profiles of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in lake sediments can be higher in the upper, most recently deposited sediment strata, driven largely by natural diagenetic processes and not eutrophication alone. We examined sediment cores from 14 different lakes in New Zealand and China ranging from oligotrophic to highly eutrophic and shallow to deep, and found that the shape of vertical profiles of total P, a key nutrient for lake productivity, can be similar in sediments across gradients of widely differing trophic status. We derived and applied empirical and mechanistic diagenesis steady state profile models to describe the vertical distribution of C, N and P in the sediments. These models, which focus on large scale temporal (decades) and spatial (up to 35 cm in the vertical) processes, revealed that density-differentiated burial and biodiffusive mixing, were strongly correlated with vertical concentration gradients of sediment C, N and P content, whereas lake trophic status was not. A sensitivity analysis of parameters included in the diagenetic model further showed that the processes including flux of organic matter to the sediment-water interface, burial (net sedimentation), breakdown of organic matter and biodiffusion all significantly can influence the vertical distribution of sediment P content. We conclude that geochemical studies attempting to evaluate drivers of the vertical distribution of sediment C, N, and P content in lake sediments should also account for the natural diagenetic drivers of vertical concentration gradients, assisted with application of similar models to those presented in this study. This would include quantification of key sediment diagenesis model parameters to separate out the influence of anthropogenic activities.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Trolle, D., Hamilton, D. P. & Pilditch, C. (2010). Evaluating the influence of lake morphology, trophic status and diagenesis on geochemical profiles in lake sediments. Applied Geochemistry, 25(5), 621-632
This is an author’s accepted version of an article published in the journal: Applied Geochemistry. ©2010 Elsevier.