Seasonal response of nutrients to reduced phosphorus loading in 12 Danish lakes


Martin Søndergaard, Department of Freshwater Ecology, National Environmental Research Institute, PO Box 314, DK-8600 Silkeborg, Denmark. E-mail:


1. Concentrations of phosphorus, nitrogen and silica and alkalinity were monitored in eight shallow and four deep Danish lakes for 13 years following a phosphorus loading reduction. The aim was to elucidate the seasonal changes in nutrient concentrations during recovery. Samples were taken biweekly during summer and monthly during winter.

2. Overall, the most substantive changes in lake water concentrations were seen in the early phase of recovery. However, phosphorus continued to decline during summer as long as 10 years after the loading reduction, indicating a significant, albeit slow, decline in internal loading.

3. Shallow and deep lakes responded differently to reduced loading. In shallow lakes the internal phosphorus release declined significantly in spring, early summer and autumn, and only non-significantly so in July and August. In contrast, in deep lakes the largest reduction occurred from May to August. This difference may reflect the much stronger benthic pelagic-coupling and the lack of stratification in shallow lakes.

4. Nitrogen only showed minor changes during the recovery period, while alkalinity increased in late summer, probably conditioned by the reduced primary production, as also indicated by the lower pH. Silica tended to decline in winter and spring during the study period, probably reflecting a reduced release of silica from the sediment because of enhanced uptake by benthic diatoms following the improved water transparency.

5. These results clearly indicate that internal loading of phosphorus can delay lake recovery for many years after phosphorus loading reduction, and that lake morphometry (i.e. deep versus shallow basins) influences the patterns of change in nutrient concentrations on both a seasonal and interannual basis.