A whole-basin stratigraphic record of sediment and phosphorus loading to the St. Croix River, USA

Laura D. Triplett, Daniel R. Engstrom, Mark B. Edlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Scopus citations


Lake St. Croix is a natural impoundment of the lowermost 37 km of the St. Croix River in Minnesota and Wisconsin, making this one of a few large river systems in the world possessing a long-term depositional basin at its terminus. The river's relatively pristine condition led to its designation as a National Scenic Riverway in 1968, but increasing urbanization in its lower reaches has raised concerns about impacts on water quality. This study was initiated to reconstruct historical loadings of suspended sediment and phosphorus (P) from the sediment record in Lake St. Croix. Twenty-four piston cores, with an average length of 2 m, were collected along eight transects of the lake. Dated chronologies from 210Pb, 137Cs and 14C were used to calculate the rate of sediment accumulation in the lake over the past 100+ years. Diatom microfossil analysis was used to reconstruct historical lakewater P concentrations over the same time period, and sediment P analysis quantified the amount of P trapped in lake sediments. Using a whole-lake mass balance approach, the loading of sediment and P to Lake St. Croix over the last 100+ years was calculated. Beginning in 1850, sediment accumulation increased dramatically to a peak in 1950-1960 of eight times background rates prior to European settlement. The peak is driven largely by sediment contributions from small side-valley catchment tributaries to the downstream half of the lake. The total P load to the lake increased sharply after 1940 and remains high, at around four times the level of pre-European settlement conditions. The timing of peak sediment and P loading to the lake shows that early settlement activities, such as logging and the conversion of forest and prairie to agricultural land between 1850 and 1890, had only modest impacts on the lake. By contrast, the mid-1900s brought major increases in sediment and P loading to the lake, suggesting that relatively recent activities on the landscape and changes to nutrient balances in the watershed have caused the current eutrophic condition of this important recreational and natural resource.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-677
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Human impact
  • Mississippi River
  • Paleolimnology
  • Phosphorus loading
  • Sediment loading
  • St. Croix River

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