Structuring features of lake districts: Landscape controls on lake chemical responses to drought

  • Webster K
  • Soranno P
  • Baines S
 et al. 
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1. Within a lake district of relatively homogeneous geomorphology, the responses of lakes to climate are influenced by the complexity of the hydrogeologic setting, position in the landscape, and lake-specific biological and physical features. We examined lake chemical responses to drought in surface water- and groundwater-dominated districts to address two general questions. (1) Are spatial patterns in chemical dynamics among lakes uniform and synchronous within a lake district, suggesting broad geomorphic controls; variable in a spatially explicit pattern, with synchrony related to landscape position, suggesting hydrologic flowpath controls; or spatially unstructured and asynchronous, suggesting overriding control by lake-speficic factors? (2) Are lake responses to drought a simple function of precipitation quantity or are they dictated by more complex interactions among climate, unique lake features, and hydrologic setting? 2. Annual open-water means for epilimnetic concentrations of chloride, calcium, sulfate, ANC, DOG, total nitrogen, silica, total phosphorus, and chlorophyll a measured between 1982 and 1995 were assembled for lakes in the Red Lake and ELA districts of northwestern Ontario, the Muskoka - Dorset district in south-central Ontario, and the Northern Highland district of Wisconsin. Within each district, we compared responses of lakes classified by landscape position into highland or lowland, depending on relative location within the local to regional hydrologic flow system. Synchrony, defined as a measure of the similarity in inter-annual dynamics among lakes within a district, was quantified as the Pearson product-moment correlation (r) between two lakes with observations paired by year. To determine if solute concentrations were directly related to interannual variations in precipitation quantity, we used regression analysis to fit district-wide slopes describing the relationship between each chemical variable and annual (June to May) and October to May (Oct-May) precipitation. 3. Among lakes in each of the three Ontario districts, the pattern of chemical response to interannual shifts in precipitation was spatially uniform. In these surface water-dominated districts, solute concentrations were generally a simple function of: precipitation. Conservative solutes, like calcium, and chloride, tended to be more synchronous and were negatively related to precipitation. Solutes such as silica, total phosphorus, and chlorophyll a, which are influenced by in-lake processes, were less synchronous and relationships with precipitation tended to be positive or absent. 4. In the groundwater-dominated Northern Highland lakes of Wisconsin, we observed spatial structure in drought response, with lowland lakes more synchronous than highland lakes, However, there was no evidence for a direct relationship between any solute and precipitation. Instead, increases in the concentration of the conservative ion calcium during drought were not followed by a symmetrical return, to pre-drought conditions when precipitation returned to normal or above-average values. 5. For calcium, time lags in recovery from drought appeared related to hydrologic features in a complex way. Zn the highland Crystal Lake, calcium concentrations tracked lake stage inversely, with a return to pre-drought concentrations and lake stage five years after the drought. This pattern suggests strong evaporative controls. In contrast, after five years of normal precipitation, calcium in the lowland Sparkling Lake had not returned to predrought conditions despite a rebound in lake stage. This result: suggests that calcium concentrations in lowland lakes were controlled more by regional groundwater flowpaths, which. track climatic signals more slowly. 6. Temporal dynamics driven by climate were most similar among lakes in districts that have a relatively simple hydrology, such as ELA. Where hydrologic setting was more complex, as in the groundwater-dominated Northern Highland of Wisconsin, the expression of climate signals in lakes showed lags and spatial patterns related to landscape position. In general, we expect that landscape and lake-specific factors become increasingly important in lake districts with more heterogeneous hydrogeology, topography or land use. These strong chemical responses to climate need to be considered when interpreting the responses of lakes to other regional disturbances.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Calcium
  • Climate
  • Groundwater
  • Hydrology
  • Lake-groundwater interactions
  • Lakes
  • Landscape position
  • Long term research
  • Ontario
  • Regionalisation
  • Seepage
  • Water chemistry
  • Wisconsin

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