Diatom-salinity records from sediment cores have been used to construct climate records of saline-lake basins. In many cases, this has been done without thorough understanding of the preservation potential of the diatoms in the sediments through time. The purpose of this study was to determine the biogeochemistry of silica in Devils Lake and evaluate the potential effects of silica cycling on diatom preservation. During the period of record, 1867-1999, lake levels have fluctuated from 427 m above sea level in 1940 to 441.1 m above sea level in 1999. The biogeochemistry of silica in Devils Lake is dominated by internal cycling. During the early 1990s when lake levels were relatively high, about 94% of the biogenic silica (BSi) produced in Devils Lake was recycled in the water column before burial. About 42% of the BSi that was incorporated in bottom sediments was dissolved and diffused back into the lake, and the remaining 58% was buried. Therefore, the BSi accumulation rate was about 3% of the BSi assimilation rate. Generally, the results obtained from this study are similar to those obtained from studies of the biogeochemistry of silica in large oligotrophic lakes and the open ocean where most of the BSi produced is recycled in surface water. During the mid 1960s when lake levels were relatively low, BSi assimilation and water-column dissolution rates were much higher than when lake levels were high. The BSi assimilation rate was as much as three times higher during low lake levels. Even with the much higher BSi assimilation rate, the BSi accumulation rate was about three times lower because the BSi water-column dissolution rate was more than 99% of the BSi assimilation rate compared to 94% during high lake levels. Variations in the biogeochemistry of silica with lake level have important implications for paleolimnologic studies. Increased BSi water-column dissolution during decreasing lake levels may alter the diatom-salinity record by selectively removing the less resistant diatoms. Also, BSi accumulation may be proportional to the amount of silica input from tributary sources. Therefore, BSi accumulation chronologies from sediment cores may be effective records of tributary inflow.
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Biogeochemistry of silica in Devils Lake: Implications for diatom preservation