Limnology of Big Lake, south-central Alaska, 1983-84

Water Supply Paper 2382




The limnological characteristics and trophic state of Big Lake in south-central Alaska were determined from the results of an intensive study during 1983-84. The study was begun in response to concern over the potential for eutrophication of Big Lake, which has experienced substantial residential development and recreational use because of its proximity to Anchorage. The east and west basins of the 1,213 square-hectometer lake were each visited 36 times during the 2-year study to obtain a wide variety of physical, chemical, and biological data. During 1984, an estimate was made of the lake's annual primary production. Big Lake was classified as oligotrophic on the basis of its annual mean values for total phosphorus (9.5 micrograms per liter), total nitrogen (209 micrograms per liter), chlorophyll-a (2.5 micrograms per liter), secchi-disc transparency (6.3 meters), and its mean daily integral primary production of 81.1 milligrams of carbon fixed per square meter. The lake was, however, uncharacteristic of oligotrophic lakes in that a severe dissolved-oxygen deficit developed within the hypolimnion during summer stratification and under winter ice cover. The summer dissolved-oxygen deficit resulted from the combination of strong and persistent thermal stratification, which developed within 1 week of the melting of the lake's ice cover in May, and the failure of the spring circulation to fully reaerate the hypolimnion. The autumn circulation did reaerate the entire water column, but the ensuing 6 months of ice and snow cover prevented atmospheric reaeration of the water column and led to development of the winter dissolved-oxygen deficit. The anoxic conditions that eventually developed near the lake bottom allowed the release of nutrients from the bottom sediments and facilitated ammonification reactions. These processes yielded hypolimnetic concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, which were much larger than the oligotrophic concentrations measured within the epilimnion. An analysis of nitrogen-to-phosphorus ratios showed that nitrogen was the nutrient most likely to limit phytoplankton growth during the summer. Although mean chlorophyll-a concentrations were at oligotrophic levels, concentrations did peak at 46.5 micrograms per liter in the east basin. During each year and in both basins, the peak chlorophyll-a concentrations were measured within the hypolimnion because the euphotic zone commonly was deeper than the epilimnion during the summer. The annual integral primary production of Big Lake in 1984 was 29.6 grams of carbon fixed per square meter with about 90 percent of that produced during May through October. During this time period, the lake received 76 percent of its annual input of solar irradiance. Monthly integral primary production, in milligrams of carbon fixed per square meter, ranged from 1.5 in January to 7,050 in July. When compared with the range of annual integral primary production measured in 50 International Biological Program lakes throughout the world, Big Lake had a low value of annual integral primary production. The results of this study lend credence to the concerns about the potential eutrophication of Big Lake. Increases in the supply of oxygen-demanding materials to Big Lake could worsen the hypolimnetic dissolved-oxygen deficit and possibly shift the lake's trophic state toward mesotrophy or eutrophy.

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USGS Numbered Series
Limnology of Big Lake, south-central Alaska, 1983-84
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ; Books and Open-File Reports Section [distributor],
iv, 108 p. :ill. ;28 cm.