US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Paleolimnology 27: 301–319, 2002.


Most of the sediment components that have accumulated in Elk Lake, Clearwater County, northwestern Minnesota, over the past 1500 years are authigenic or biogenic (CaCO3, biogenic SiO2, organic matter, iron and manganese oxyhydroxides, and iron phosphate) and are delivered to the sediment–water interface on a seasonal schedule where they are preserved as distinct annual laminae (varves). The annual biogeochemical cycles of these components are causally linked through the ‘carbon pump’, and are recapitulated in longer-term cycles, most prominently with a periodicity of about 400 years. Organic carbon is fixed in the epilimnion by photosynthetic removal of CO2, which also increases the pH, triggering the precipitation of CaCO3. The respiration and degradation of fixed organic carbon in the hypolimnion consumes dissolved oxygen, produces CO2, and lowers the pH so that the hypolimnion becomes anoxic and undersaturated with respect to CaCO3 during the summer. Some of the CaCO3 produced in the epilimnion is dissolved in the anoxic, lower pH hypolimnion and sediments. The amount of CaCO3 that is ultimately incorporated into the sediments is a function of how much is produced in the epilimnion and how much is consumed in the hypolimnion and the sediments. Iron, manganese, and phosphate accumulate in the anoxic hypolimnion throughout the summer. Sediment-trap studies show that at fall overturn, when iron-, manganese-, and phosphate-rich bottom waters mix with carbonate- and oxygen-rich surface waters, precipitation of iron and manganese oxyhydroxides, iron phosphate, and manganese carbonate begins and continues into the winter months. Detrital clastic material in the sediments of Elk Lake deposited over the last 1500 years is a minor component (<10% by weight) that is mostly wind-borne (eolian). Detailed analyses of the last 1500 years of the Elk Lake sediment record show distinct cycles in eolian clastic variables (e.g. aluminum, sodium, potassium, titanium, and quartz), with a periodicity of about 400 years. The 400-yr cycle in eolian clastic material does not correspond to the 400-yr cycles in redox-sensitive authigenic components, suggesting that the clastic component is responding to external forcing (wind) whereas the authigenic components are responding to internal forcing (productivity), although both may ultimately be forced by climate change. Variations in the oxygen and carbon isotopic composition of CaCO3 are small but appear to reflect small variations in ground water influx that are also driven by external forcing.