Geochemistry and mineralogy of southwestern Lake Superior sediments with an emphasis on phosphorus lability

Maurício S. Tonello, Tayler S. Hebner, Robert W. Sterner, Sandra Brovold, Tales Tiecher, Edson C. Bortoluzzi, Gustavo H. Merten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Purpose: The lability of phosphorus (P) in Lake Superior sediments and its relationship with sediment mineralogy and geochemistry remains poorly understood. The purpose of this study is to provide information about southwestern Lake Superior (SLS) sediment P lability and relate this information to the mineralogical composition and geochemical characterization of these sediments. Materials and methods: Samples were collected from riverbed (input), shoreline (input), and lake bottom. Thirteen samples were submitted to P sequential extraction and nine were submitted to mineralogical and geochemical analysis to provide context to measures of P lability. Results and discussion: Sediments were composed of non-clay minerals of low P reactivity (quartz, augite, calcite, dolomite, anorthite, microcline, and magnesite) and minerals with greater P reactivity such as oxides (rutile and hematite) and clay minerals (kaolinite, smectite/vermiculite, chlorite, mica or illite, and interstratified clays). The total P concentrations in lake bottom, riverbed, and shoreline sediment sources were, on average, 1151, 945, and 837 mg kg−1, respectively. However, labile P [extracted by NH4Cl (P loosely sorbed) and NaHCO3+Na2S2O4 (P redox sensitive)] represented less than 10% of the total P. More than 80% of P in the sediments was associated with organic compounds and carbonates with low availability to biota. Conclusions: Findings indicate that riverbed, shoreline, and lake bottom sediments contain very low concentrations of P available to aquatic biota due to the presence of minerals with high chemical reactivity with potential to adsorb P, such as poorly crystalized iron oxides, clay minerals like chlorite, and 2:1 clay minerals with hydroxy-aluminum interlayered minerals. These results help explain the high P retention in the lake and suggest that sediments in SLS may act as a long-term sink for P, which helps to explain the very low concentration of P found in the SLS aquatic system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1060-1073
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge CNPq-Brazil for their financial support (458553/2014-0) and a grant awarded to E.C. Bortoluzzi (306551/2015-2) and to CAPES for the grant awarded to M.S. Tonello. In addition, this study would not have been possible without support from the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth, MN.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Lake sediments
  • Oxides
  • P adsorption
  • Phosphorus sequential fractionation
  • X-ray diffraction


Dive into the research topics of 'Geochemistry and mineralogy of southwestern Lake Superior sediments with an emphasis on phosphorus lability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this