Atmospheric nutrient loading and transport though precipitation and dry deposition is one of the least understood yet one of the most important pathways of nutrient transport into many lakes. These nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen, are essential for aquatic life and often play major roles in algae blooms that occur in lakes and reservoirs. Often heavy algal growth intensifies a variety of water quality problems. Utah Lake may be even more susceptible to atmospheric deposition due to its large surface area to volume ratio and proximity to Great Basin dust sources. In this study, eight months of atmospheric deposition data were collected and analyzed from five locations near Utah Lake. Geospatial maps were created to show the temporal distribution of phosphorus and nitrogen. Evaluation of the atmospheric deposition results indicate that between 8 to 350 tons of total phosphorus and 46 to 460 tons of dissolved inorganic nitrogen were deposited onto the surface of Utah Lake over an eight-month period. Both estimates were based on assuming that the deposition decreased exponentially from the sampling station to the middle of the lake. The large difference results from using only samples with no visible particles or insects present to give the low estimate and all samples to give the high estimate. These nutrient loading values are very significant in that it has been estimated that only about 17 tons year-1 of phosphorus and about 200 tons year-1 of nitrogen are needed to support a eutrophic level of algal growth in Utah Lake. Atmospheric deposition was found to be a major contributor in providing a eutrophic nutrient load to Utah Lake. Further, it is likely that the actual deposition loading is much higher than 8 tons per 8 months thus indicating that deposition alone adds a eutrophic phosphorus loading to the lake. Since conditions are similar in much of the Great Basin and other areas of Western United States, this seems to be a very significant finding relative to nutrient evaluation and feasible management scenarios. The results also indicate that one might expect to see more cyanobacteria blooms (Harmful Algal Blooms) in shallow ponds in this area if atmospheric deposition is the main source of nutrients, since N to P ratios are low and thus more situations arise where a shortage of ionic nitrogen favors these nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Civil and Environmental Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





Utah Lake, phosphorus, nitrogen, atmospheric deposition, eutrophication, harmful algal blooms