The landscape-scale relationship between lake sediment geochemistry and catchment bedrock composition from the Temagami and Gowganda areas of Northeastern Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Lake sediments are integrators of watershed wide environmental information that includes bedrock geology, glacial overburden, vegetation, hydrology and land use. Lake sediments were collected from an area covering approximately 13,600 km2 from the Gowganda and Temagami regions to determine the geochemical background conditions representing different bedrock types. For the entire dataset, the median value for arsenic in lake sediment was 2.6 mg/kg, well within the prescribed limits indicating that the Canadian national objective for arsenic in sediments for the protection of aquatic life (17 mg/kg). Overall, the vast majority of lake sediment samples (97.2%) were below the 17 mg/kg Canadian objective for the protection of aquatic life, however, catchments with Nipissing Diabase had the highest background levels for arsenic (10 mg/kg) with some lakes ranging up to 30 mg/kg. The major geological controls influencing changes in lake sediment geochemistry were determined using random forest classification and principal component analysis (PCA). Random forest classification was able to identify which geological province the samples were derived from and the dominant rock types in the sample catchment with respectable accuracy. PCA revealed strong spatial relationships between lake sediment geochemistry and bedrock geology, particularly a strong relationship between Nipissing Diabase in the watershed of the lake and the cobalt-type mineralization indicator elements in the lake sediment including naturally higher levels of arsenic. Within the samples that exceeded regulatory standards, over half the samples that exceeded the regulatory objectives were located in watersheds that contained Nipissing Diabase in their catchment. This study demonstrates that unique geochemical assemblages can be associated with specific geological areas which is of interest to exploration geologists, for target generation and prospecting, and to environmental policy makers, for site-specific restoration targets.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) for collecting and making available these highly valuable large geochemistry datasets. Although we have used OGS datasets as the basis of this study this research represents our own work and is in no way endorsed or supported by the OGS. We also thank Dr. Fred Michel for many helpful conversations on the geology and mining history of the Cobalt region of Ontario. This research was funded by an NSERC Discovery grant to JCV.

Funding

D.D.S. and J.C.V. are supported by Carleton University and funding of this project was through an NSERC Discovery Grant to J.C.V. The authors would like to thank the Ontario Geological Survey for use of their data and particularly, Richard Dyer, who provided initial advice on how to approach this large dataset.

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Sprague, D.D., Vermaire, J.C. The landscape-scale relationship between lake sediment geochemistry and catchment bedrock composition from the Temagami and Gowganda areas of Northeastern Ontario, Canada. Environ Earth Sci 77, 463 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-018-7625-x

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Keywords

  • Environmental arsenic
  • Lake sediment
  • Geochemical background
  • Geochemical exploration
  • Aquatic restoration
  • Random forest