Transient Hydrogeological Controls on the Chemistry of a Seepage Lake


  • David P. Krabbenhoft,

  • Katherine E. Webster


A solute mass balance method was used to estimate groundwater inflow and outflow rates for Nevins Lake, Michigan, a seepage lake in the upper peninsula that historically has shown extremely variable water chemistry compared with most other seepage lakes. A 4-year study (1989–1992) of the hydrology and geochemistry of Nevins Lake and its contiguous groundwater system revealed that changes in the mass of dissolved solutes are the result of annual hydraulic gradient reversals. A pronounced acidification of Nevins Lake from 1986 to 1988 was likely caused by drought-induced diminished groundwater inflow rates. In this study, dissolved calcium (the major cation in water of Nevins Lake, groundwater, and precipitation) was used for estimating mass flow rates. During the 1989–1992 period, Nevins Lake showed a reproducible annual cycle in calcium mass. Immediately following spring snowmelt and the resulting hydraulic gradient reversal, the mass of dissolved calcium in the lake increases rapidly, and then it decreases steadily throughout the summer and early fall, at which time the lake becomes hydraulically mounded and receives no groundwater inflow. Groundwater flow rates estimated by the solute mass balance method are sensitive to assumed solute concentrations in discharging groundwater. Pore water samples from the lake bed are shown to be more representative of water discharging to the lake than are samples from piezometers near the lake shore, but spatial and temporal variability in pore water chemistry must be considered. Stable isotope analyses (18O and 2H) of lake water, groundwater, and pore water samples show that water discharging to Nevins Lake in the spring is entirely recycled lake water, and no groundwater derived from terrestrial recharge reaches the lake. The conceptual model formulated during this study linking lake chemistry and the contiguous groundwater system and general groundwater flow patterns surrounding highly transient lake systems are likely transferable to other similar systems.