Temporal coherence of two alpine lake basins of the Colorado Front Range, USA

Freshwater Biology

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1. Knowledge of synchrony in trends is important to determining regional responses of lakes to disturbances such as atmospheric deposition and climate change. We explored the temporal coherence of physical and chemical characteristics of two series of mostly alpine lakes in nearby basins of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Using year-to-year variation over a 10-year period, we asked whether lakes more similar in exposure to the atmosphere be-haved more similarly than those with greater influence of catchment or in-lake processes.

2. The Green Lakes Valley and Loch Vale Watershed are steeply incised basins with strong altitudinal gradients. There are glaciers at the heads of each catchment. The eight lakes studied are small, shallow and typically ice-covered for more than half the year. Snowmelt is the dominant hydrological event each year, flushing about 70% of the annual discharge from each lake between April and mid-July. The lakes do not thermally stratify during the period of open water. Data from these lakes included surface water temper-ature, sulphate, nitrate, calcium, silica, bicarbonate alkalinity and conductivity.

3. Coherence was estimated by Pearson's correlation coefficient between lake pairs for each of the different variables. Despite close geographical proximity, there was not a strong direct signal from climatic or atmospheric conditions across all lakes in the study. Individual lake characteristics overwhelmed regional responses. Temporal coherence was higher for lakes within each basin than between basins and was highest for nearest neighbours.

4. Among the Green Lakes, conductivity, alkalinity and temperature were temporally coherent, suggesting that these lakes were sensitive to climate fluctuations. Water tem-perature is indicative of air temperature, and conductivity and alkalinity concentrations are indicative of dilution from the amount of precipitation flushed through by snowmelt.

5. In Loch Vale, calcium, conductivity, nitrate, sulphate and alkalinity were temporally coherent, while silica and temperature were not. This suggests that external influences are attenuated by internal catchment and lake processes in Loch Vale lakes. Calcium and sulphate are primarily weathering products, but sulphate derives both from deposition and from mineral weathering. Different proportions of snowmelt versus groundwater in different years could influence summer lake concentrations. Nitrate is elevated in lake waters from atmospheric deposition, but the internal dynamics of nitrate and silica may be controlled by lake food webs. Temperature is attenuated by inconsistently different climates across altitude and glacial meltwaters.

6. It appears that, while the lakes in the two basins are topographically close, geologically and morphologically similar, and often connected by streams, only some attributes are temporally coherent. Catchment and in-lake processes influenced temporal patterns, especially for temperature, alkalinity and silica. Montane lakes with high altitudinal gradients may be particularly prone to local controls compared to systems where coherence is more obvious.

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Journal Article
Temporal coherence of two alpine lake basins of the Colorado Front Range, USA
Series title:
Freshwater Biology
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Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
14 p.
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United States