Sediment geochemistry and contributions to carbon and nutrient cycling in a deep meromictic tropical lake: Lake Malawi (East Africa)

Jiying Li, Erik T. Brown, Sean A. Crowe, Sergei Katsev

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12 Scopus citations


The biogeochemical functioning of large tropical lakes differs substantially from temperate lakes, yet remains poorly understood. We characterized the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling in the water column and sediments of a deep meromictic tropical Lake Malawi (East Africa) by measuring geochemical distributions and compiling whole-lake geochemical budgets. Four locations (100 to 650 m water depth) were characterized. The results reveal that sediments contribute significantly to lake-wide biogeochemical budgets. Sedimentation rates have significantly increased in recent decades. While the export efficiency of organic matter from photic zone to deep sediments is low (14%), organic carbon is buried in the anoxic sediments with high efficiency (27–46%). Area-specific rates of carbon mineralization (4.1 mmol m− 2 d− 1) are similar to those in temperate well-oxygenated large lakes and marine sediments in similar water depths. Ammonium effluxes from sediments (0.44 mmol m− 2 d− 1) contribute 29% to the total nitrogen inputs into the water column, while sediment denitrification (0.035 mmol m− 2 d− 1) and burial of organic nitrogen (0.27 mmol m− 2 d− 1) remove 28% of total inputs in the lake. The recycling efficiency of phosphorus in anoxic sediments is high (73%). P effluxes average 0.037 mmol m− 2 d− 1, suggesting a large and previously unquantified contribution (42%) to water column P inputs. The results underscore the importance of sediments in the geochemical budgets of even large lakes and suggest trends in lacustrine carbon cycling that hold across a wide range of environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1234
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 International Association for Great Lakes Research.


  • Carbon cycle
  • Lake Malawi
  • Nutrient budgets
  • Sediments


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