, Volume 253, Issue 1-3, pp 275-280

Sulfate control of phosphorus availability in lakes

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During summer stratification large amounts of phosphorus (P) accumulate in anoxic bottom waters of many lakes due to release of P from underlying sediments. The availability to phytoplankton of this P is inversely related to the Fe:P ratio in bottom waters. Using data from 51 lakes, we tested the hypothesis that sulfate concentration in lake water may be critical in controlling the Fe:P ratio in anoxic bottom waters. Results showed that Fe:P ratios in bottom waters of lakes were significantly (p<0.001) related to surface water sulfate concentrations. The higher Fe:P ratios in low sulfate systems is due not only to higher iron concentrations in anoxic bottom waters but also to lower P concentrations in anoxic waters. Thus, our results suggest that anthropogenically induced increases in sulfate concentrations of waters (e.g. from fossil fuel burning) may have a double effect on P cycling in lakes. Higher sulfate concentrations can both increase the magnitude of P release from sediments as well as increase the availability of P released from sediments into anoxic bottom waters.