Is phosphorus retention in autochthonous lake sediments controlled by oxygen or phosphorus?

Moosmann, Lorenz, René Gächter, Beat Müller, Alfred Wüest

Limnol. Oceanogr., 51(1_part_2), 2006, 763-771 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2006.51.1_part_2.0763

ABSTRACT: Eutrophication of various lakes on the Swiss Plateau was targeted in the 1980s by reducing external nutrient loading and installing aeration/oxygenation systems. For five eutrophic lakes, three of which have been artificially oxygenated and aerated for almost 20 yr, phosphorus (P) balances were established using input, water-column inventory, export via the outlet, and sediment core data. To separate the effects of aeration/oxygenation from the effects of P-input reduction, two measures of P retention were determined—the ratio of net sedimentation to input and the ratio of net sedimentation to gross sedimentation. A comparison among the five lakes shows that, presently, P retention does not differ significantly between lakes with aeration/oxygenation and lakes with an anoxic hypolimnion, whereas retention at times of maximum P concentrations in the 1970s and 1980s was significantly lower compared with retention in today’s moderately eutrophic lakes. This is in agreement with the finding that net sedimentation in all lakes remained relatively constant between 280 and 950 kg km-2, independent of their P concentration. It is shown that constant net sedimentation is likely to prevail as long as P concentrations remain above a critical value of around 40 mg m-3. Constant net sedimentation indicates that permanent deposition of P is limited by the sediment’s binding capacity. Oxic conditions in the hypolimnion do not necessarily increase this capacity because redox-dependent P species may still be released within the anoxic bulk sediment and diffuse back into the water column. To characterize the P retention capacity of anoxic sediments, we suggest that the P burial rate be determined from dated sediment cores rather than from input/output balances.

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