Bedrock, soil, and lichen geochemistry from Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Open-File Report 2003-276

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Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, is a large island in northeastern Lake Superior that became a national park in 1940 and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. The relative isolation of Isle Royale (Figure 1), 25 kilometers out in Lake Superior from the Canadian mainland, its generally harsh climate, and its status as a wilderness national park have minimized human influence on the geochemical evolution of its landscape.

USGS sampling on Isle Royale began in 1996 as part of a larger project on the geology of the Midcontinent rift in the Lake Superior region and continued through 2000. Sampling began with collecting bedrock samples to characterize the geochemistry of the volcanic rocks that make up the much of the island, as well as samples representative of the minor native copper mineralization found on the island. Preliminary results from the bedrock study indicated, among other findings, that basaltic bedrock on the island had no detectable mercury, but that there was an association between native copper mineralization and trace amounts of mercury (Cannon and Woodruff, 1999). This finding and the recognition by the National Park Service that 6 of 32 inland lakes on Isle Royale have mercury levels in game fish that exceed State of Michigan acceptable levels for human consumption (Kallemeyn, 2000) resulted in renewed sampling on the island focused more on environmental issues.

To evaluate atmospheric inputs of mercury and other elements to soil geochemistry, regionally distributed samples of both soils and lichens were collected as paired samples across the entire island. At each soil sample site, three epiphytic (grows in trees) lichen species, Evernia mesomorpha, Hypogymnia plysodes, and Parmelia sucata, were always collected. At some sites Cladina rangiferina, a lichen that grows on bare bedrock and soil surfaces, was also collected. The occurrence of Cladina rangiferina on the island is somewhat limited, and so this lichen species was not collected at all sites.

A high density of soil samples was collected within three individual watersheds (Sargent Lake, Lake Wagejo, and Lake Richie) for a localized study that evaluated the terrestrial distribution of mercury and other elements of environmental concern. These lakes were chosen using data from Kallemeyn (2000) that showed that Sargent Lake and Lake Wagejo have high mercury in fish, whereas Lake Richie, which is similar in size to Sargent Lake, does not. As part of this study on the terrestrial contribution of mercury to lakes, long cores of lake sediments were recovered from Sargent Lake and Lake Richie using a modified Livingston piston sampler.

For an ancillary study that evolved from the study on the distribution of mercury in certain watersheds, some soil samples were collected to evaluate the impact of forest fire on soil geochemistry, deliberately sampling within and outside areas on the island that burned in severe forest fires in 1936. To complete bedrock sampling on the island, rock samples from the Copper Harbor Formation, a sedimentary unit that occurs on the southeastern part of the island were collected in 1999.

This report presents all the geochemical data from samples collected by the USGS during this period (Figures 1 and 2). A number of reports presenting data interpretation are in preparation

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Bedrock, soil, and lichen geochemistry from Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
National Wildlife Health Center, Minnesota Water Science Center
17 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Isle Royale National Park
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