Flocculation: a key process in the sediment flux of a large, glacier-fed lake



This study investigates the consequences of flocculation for sediment flux in glacier-fed Lillooet Lake, British Columbia based on density, fractal dimension, in situ profiles of sediment concentration and size distribution, and settling velocity equations presented in the literature. Sediment flux attributed to macroflocs during the late spring and summer accounts for a significant portion of sediment flux in the lake, equivalent to at least one-quarter of the average annual sediment flux. Fine sediment is reaching the lake floor faster in flocs than occurs if settling as individual grains. This flux varies both spatially and temporally over the observation period, suggesting a link between deposition via flocculation and the properties of bottom sediments. Macrofloc flux increased through June, reached a peak during July, and then declined into August. Macrofloc flux was greatest in the distal end of the first basin, approximately 10 km from the point of inflow. Relatively high excess densities (∼0·1 g cm–3 at 500 µm) for flocs in situ are consistent with a composition dominated by inorganic primary particles. Microlaminations within Lillooet Lake varves have been linked by earlier workers to discharge events, and the action of turbidity currents, emanating from the Lillooet River. While turbidity currents undoubtedly occur in Lillooet Lake, these results demonstrate flocculation as an adjunct process linking discharge, lake level, macrofloc flux, bulk density and microlaminations. In situ measurements of sediment settling velocity in glacier-fed lakes are required to better constrain flux rates, and permit comparison between flocculation in lacustrine environments with existing studies of estuarine, marine and fluvial flocculation. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.