Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 307–320

9000 years of geochemical evolution of lithogenic major and trace elements in the sediment of an alpine lake – the role of climate, vegetation, and land-use history


  • Karin A. Koinig
    • Institute of GeologyUniversity of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1
    • Institute of Zoology and LimnologyUniversity of Innsbruch, Technikerstrasse 25
  • William Shotyk
    • Institute of GeologyUniversity of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 1
    • Institute of Environmental GeochemistryUniversity of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 236
  • André F. Lotter
    • Geobotanical InstituteUniversity of Bern, Altenbergrain 21
    • University of Utrecht, Laboratory of Palaeobotany and Palynology, Budapestlaan 4
  • Christian Ohlendorf
  • Michael Sturm

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026080712312

Cite this article as:
Koinig, K.A., Shotyk, W., Lotter, A.F. et al. Journal of Paleolimnology (2003) 30: 307. doi:10.1023/A:1026080712312


A 9000cal. year record of geochemistry was analysed in a sediment core obtained from a Swiss alpine hard-water lake (1937 ma.s.l.) that is located at the present-day tree-line. Geochemical stratigraphies are compared to changes in mineralogy, grain-size, pollen, and macrofossil records. This allows the reconstruction of the effects of changes in vegetation and of 3500 years of land-use in the catchment area on sediment geochemistry. Using principal component analysis, two major geochemical groups are distinguished: (i) Changes in concentrations of Rb, Ti, Zr, Fe, As, and Pb are closely related to corresponding changes in the concentrations of quartz and clay. They are thus considered to represent the silicate fraction which shows an increase from the oldest to the youngest core section. (ii) In contrast, Ca and Sr concentrations are positively correlated with changes in silt, sand, and calcite. They are therefore considered to represent the carbonate fraction which gradually decreased. Based on constrained cluster analysis, the core is divided into two major zones. The oldest zone (A; 9000–6400 cal.BP) is characterised by high concentrations of detrital carbonates. The more open catchment vegetation at that time promoted the physical weathering of these carbonates. The second major zone (B, 6400 cal.BP–1996 AD) is divided into four subsections with boundaries at ca. 3500, 2400, and 160cal. BP. The lower part of this zone, B1, is characterized by a gradual decrease in the carbonate-silt fraction and a pronounced increase in the silicate-clay fraction. This is concurrent with the expansion of Picea in the catchment area, which probably stabilized the soil. The middle part, B2 and B3 (3500–160cal. BP), comprises pronounced fluctuations in all elements, especially Ca, Sr, Mn, and Rb, but also in clay and silt. These changes are related to varying intensities of alpine farming. In the same section, Mn/Fe ratios are highly variable, suggesting changes in the mixing regime of the lake with phases of anoxic bottom water. The uppermost section, B4 (since 160cal. BP), is characterized by a steep decline in the silicate fraction and an increase in Ca and Sr. Despite the decrease in the silicate fraction, Pb increases, due to elevated atmospheric input resulting from early metal pollution, are masked by the high natural variability. Generally, changes in vegetation, which correspond to climate changes in the early Holocene and to human activities since ca. 3700cal. BP, are the controlling factor for variations in the geochemical composition of the sediment of Sägistalsee.

Sediment geochemistryTrace-metalsWeatheringErosionManganeseCarbonateAnoxia

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003