Sediment-phosphorus release rates as a function of pH were determined in laboratory experiments for sediment and water samples collected from Shoalwater Bay in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, in 2001. Aerial release rates for a stable sediment/water interface that is representative of the sediment surface area to water column volume ratio (1:3) observed in the lake and volumetric release rates for resuspended sediment events were determined at three different pH values (8.1, 9.2, 10.2). Ambient water column pH (8.1) was maintained by sparging study columns with atmospheric air. Elevation of the water column pH to 9.2 was achieved through the removal of dissolved carbon dioxide by sparging with carbon dioxide-reduced air, partially simulating water chemistry changes that occur during algal photosynthesis. Further elevation of the pH to 10.2 was achieved by the addition of sodium hydroxide, which doubled average alkalinities in the study columns from about 1 to 2 milliequivalents per liter.
Upper Klamath Lake sediments collected from the lake bottom and then placed in contact with lake water, either at a stable sediment/water interface or by resuspension, exhibited an initial capacity to take up soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) from the water column rather than release phosphorus to the water column. At a higher pH this initial uptake of phosphorus is slowed, but not stopped. This initial phase was followed by a reversal in which the sediments began to release SRP back into the water column. The release rate of phosphorus 30 to 40 days after suspension of sediments in the columns was 0.5 mg/L/day (micrograms per liter per day) at pH 8, and 0.9 mg/L/day at pH 10, indicating that the higher pH increased the rate of phosphorus release by a factor of about two. The highest determined rate of release was approximately 10% (percent) of the rate required to explain the annual internal loading to Upper Klamath Lake from the sediments as calculated from a lake-wide mass balance and observed in total phosphorus data collected at individual locations.