US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in JOURNAL OF SEDIMENTARY RESEARCH, VOL. 72, NO. 3, MAY, 2002, P. 416–431.


The accumulation rates of CaCO3 and organic carbon (OC) in lake sediments are delicately balanced between production in the epilimnion and destruction in the hypolimnion. The cycling of these two forms of carbon makes a ‘‘carbon pump’’ that greatly affects the biogeochemical cycles of other elements. To further understand these biogeochemical dynamics, the lakes, streams, and wetlands of the Shingobee River headwater area of north-central Minnesota have been subjected to intensive hydrologic and biogeochemical studies. Williams Lake, situated close to the highest point in the regional flow system, is hydrologically closed, with no surface inlet or outlet, and ground water and precipitation as the only sources of water. Shingobee Lake, situated at the lowest point in the regional flow system, has the Shingobee River as an inlet and outlet. The surface waters of both lakes are oversaturated, and the bottom waters undersaturated, with respect to CaCO3 during the summer. The small amount of CaCO3 that is precipitated in the epilimnion of Williams Lake during the summer is dissolved in the undersaturated hypolimnion and sediments with the result that no CaCO3 is incorporated into the profundal surface sediments. Because of the high phytoplankton productivity of Shingobee Lake, sufficient CaCO3 is produced in the epilimnion that large amounts survive the corrosive hypolimnion and sediments, and an average of 46 wt. % accumulates in surface sediments.

Another consequence of higher phytoplankton productivity in Shingobee Lake is that the hypolimnion becomes oxygen deficient within a month after overturn in both the spring and fall. Because of reducing conditions that develop in the hypolimnion of Shingobee Lake, high concentrations of dissolved Fe and Mn accumulate there during summer stratification. Precipitation of Fe and Mn oxyhydroxides during periods of fall and spring overturn results in high concentrations of Fe and Mn in surface sediments. In Williams Lake, high concentrations of Fe and Mn do not build up in the hypolimnion.

The concentration of CaCO3 is about 80 wt. % in lower Holocene sediments of both lakes. The lower Holocene sediments in both lakes also contain high concentrations of Fe and Mn, and the lower Holocene sediments of Shingobee are laminated. The waters of both lakes had identical values of δ13C and δ18O during the early Holocene, but the waters of Williams Lake ‘‘evolved’’ during the early Holocene, increasing about 10‰ in both δ13C and δ18O. Deposits of lacustrine marl occur as much as seven meters above the present elevation of Williams Lake, the highest of the two lakes. Taken together, these observations suggest that the lakes were once connected to form a larger lake called Lake Willobee with a hypolimnion that was anoxic, at least seasonally.