A Seasonal to Interannual View of Inorganic and Organic Carbon and pH in Western Lake Superior

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


To investigate the carbon cycle of Lake Superior, Earth's largest freshwater lake by surface area, we performed total organic carbon, dissolved organic carbon, chlorophyll, spectrophotometric pH, total inorganic carbon, and alkalinity measurements on seasonal samples from the western lake. The last three parameters, along with in situ temperature, were used to calculate the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in surface water (pCO2(w)) using the CO2SYS algorithm. There was a strong positive correlation between pH and water temperature and a weaker but significant positive correlation between pH and chlorophyll concentration. Total organic carbon exhibited higher nearshore concentrations (as determined by a negative correlation with total water column depth); such a spatial relationship did not appear in the inorganic carbon parameters (total inorganic carbon, pH, or pCO2(w)). Western Lake Superior exhibited net outgassing in spring, little net gas transfer in summer, and some outgassing in the fall. The pCO2(w) values were negatively correlated with both water temperature and chlorophyll concentration. Seasonal differences in pCO2(w) in Lake Superior appeared more strongly driven by biology and terrestrial inputs as compared to direct effects of temperature on CO2 solubility. Interannual data from the long-term Great Lakes Environmental Database data set indicated that lake alkalinity has been increasing over the past 20 years, and lake surface water pH appeared relatively stable. Modeling pH change over the same time frame in CO2SYS shows that increases in alkalinity and lake surface water temperature counteract the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, leading to a relatively constant pH, consistent with observational data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-419
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the captain and crew of the R/V Blue Heron, Sandra Brovold, Sarah Grosshuesch, Robert Sterner, and Kaila Hanson for assistance in sampling and sample analyses. Thanks to Kathryn Schreiner from the Large Lakes Observatory and Mike DeGrandpre from the University of Montana for their comments on early versions of this manuscript. Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative‐Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Data used in this paper can be found in the supporting information of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
©2019. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Lake Superior
  • alkalinity
  • inorganic carbon
  • organic carbon
  • pCO2
  • pH

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A Seasonal to Interannual View of Inorganic and Organic Carbon and pH in Western Lake Superior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this