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Geochemistry of Pyramid Lake sediments: influence of anthropogenic activities and climatic variations within the basin

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ENVIRONMENTAL GEOLOGY, Volume 43, Issue 6, p.688-697 (2003)


In 1998, a 59-cm sediment box core (PLB98-2) was taken from the deepest part of Pyramid Lake (water depth = 106 m), Nevada. Age control for PLB98-2 was provided using a variety of approaches. Dried sediment samples were leached with 10% ultra-pure nitric acid and analyzed for their elemental concentrations using standard ICP techniques. The variations in elemental concentrations can be divided into two periods: one prior to European settlement and one influenced by anthropogenic activities. The concentrations of K, Al, Na, Zn, and Mn all began to increase after pre-European manipulation of the watershed in similar to1860, which indicates the increasing soil erosion in the watershed was due to deforestation and development. The highest concentrations of these elements and lithogenic elements such as P, Mg, Fe, Cu, Ba, and Si occurred during the flood event of the 1990s. The Pb enrichment times are similar to what has been observed in estuaries draining the western Sierra Nevada, but the Pb enrichments in Pyramid Lake are much less. The Ca, TOC, TIC, Sr, and Ba concentrations show a strong association that is closely related to drought-wet variations of climate and the construction of Derby Dam for water diversions in the early 1900s. Se concentrations vary with the delta(18)O of the carbonate in the sediments. Although the delta(18)O "leads" the other species and Truckee River discharge by a few years, it is an excellent indicator of the hydrological change of Pyramid Lake, which is related to climate changes and human activities. From similar to1920, Mn and Mo vary inversely in the sediments. In general, the Mo concentrations varies directly with the organic carbon content of the sediments from 1910 to similar to1980, suggesting enhanced removal of MID during times of increased productivity in the lake, and anoxic conditions at the sediment/water interface. This coincides with low lake levels. The elemental. composition of the sediments in Pyramid Lake clearly reflect the timing of important anthropogenic activities and climatic variations that have taken place within the watershed over the past 240 years.