An increasing number of lakes worldwide are impacted by eutrophication and harmful algal blooms due to nutrient inputs. Utah Lake is a unique eutrophic freshwater lake that is naturally shallow, turbid, and alkaline with high dissolved oxygen levels. Recently, the Utah Division of Water Quality has proposed a new limitation of phosphorus (P) loading to Utah Lake from wastewater treatment plants in an effort to mitigate eutrophication. However, reducing external P loads may not lead to immediate improvements in water quality due to the legacy pool of nutrients in lake sediments. The purpose of this study was to characterize the fate and mobility of P in Utah Lake sediments to better understand P cycling in this unique system. We analyzed P speciation, mineralogy, and binding capacity in lake sediment samples collected from 15 locations across Utah Lake. P concentrations in sediment ranged from 306 to 1894 ppm, with highest concentrations in Provo Bay near the major metropolitan area. Sequential leach tests indicate that ~25-50% of P is associated with Ca (CaCO3/ Ca10(PO4)6(OH,F,Cl)2 ≈ P) and 40-60% is associated with Fe (Fe(OOH) ≈ P). Ca-associated P was confirmed by SEM images, which showed the highest P concentrations correlating with Ca (carbonate minerals/apatite). The Ca-associated P fraction is likely immobile, but the Fe-bound P is potentially bioavailable under changing redox conditions. Batch sorption results indicate that lake sediments have a high capacity to absorb and remove P from the water column, with an average uptake of 70-96% removal over the range of 1-10 mg/L P. Mineral precipitation and sorption to bottom sediments is an efficient removal mechanism of P in Utah Lake, but a significant portion of P may be temporarily available for resuspension and cycling in surface waters. Mitigating lake eutrophication is a complex problem that goes beyond decreasing external nutrient loads to the water body and requires a better understanding in-lake P cycling.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





eutrophication, internal P loading, P speciation, P sorption, P mineralogy, Utah Lake, lake sediments



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Geology Commons