Lake Pepin is a natural impoundment formed by damming of the Mississippi River about 9,180 radiocarbon years ago (19,600 calendar years) by an alluvial fan deposited by the Chippewa River, a tributary of the Mississippi in Wisconsin. Unique among 26 Mississippi River impoundments, Lake Pepin has stratigraphically preserved Holocene materials, including pollutants, that have been transported down the Mississippi. This natural Holocene record can then be compared to changes that have occurred since European settlement (ca. AD 1830), and since enactment of clean air and water legislation. The most immediate response to settlement in the sediments of Lake Pepin was an increase in bulk-sediment accumulation rate. This was accompanied by gradual increases in concentrations of phosphorus (P), and organic carbon (OC), followed by dramatic increases in these elements beginning about 1940. The increase in P was far greater than any of the minor fluctuations in P that occurred throughout the Holocene, but the increase in OC was comparable to an increase in OC that occurred in the mid-Holocene. The concentrations of several metals (for example, cadmium [Cd], and lead [Pb]) also are elevated in recent sediments. Increased Cd concentrations lasted only about two decades during the industrial era between World War II and the enactment of clean water standards in the 1970s. Increased Pb emissions, on the other hand, occurred over more than 100 years, first from burning of coal and smelting of lead ores, and then, beginning in the 1930s, burning of leaded gasoline. Concentrations of Pb in the sediments of Lake Pepin decreased to about two times preindustrial levels within a decade of enactment of unleaded gasoline restrictions.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Holocene Record of Major and Trace Components in the Sediments of an Urban Impoundment on the Mississippi River: Lake Pepin, Minnesota and Wisconsin