Sediment fingerprinting as an environmental forensics tool explaining cyanobacteria blooms in lakes

J. S. Rowan*, S. Black, Stewart Franks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms in water bodies present serious public health issues with attendant economic and ecological impacts. Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) is an important conservation and amenity asset within Snowdonia National Park, Wales which since the mid-1990s has experienced multiple toxic cyanobacteria blooms threatening the ecology and tourism-dependent local economy. Multiple working hypotheses explain the emergence of this problem, including climate change, land management linked to increased nutrient flux, hydromorphological alterations or changing trophic structure - any of which may operate individually or cumulatively to impair lake function. This paper reports the findings of a sediment fingerprinting study using dated lake cores to explore the linkages between catchment and lake management practices and the emergence of the algal blooms problem. Since 1900 AD lake bed sedimentation rates have varied from 0.06 to 1.07 g cm-2 yr-1, with a pronounced acceleration since the early 1980s. Geochemical analysis revealed increases in the concentrations of total phosphorus (TP), calcium and heavy metals such as zinc and lead consistent with eutrophication and a rising pollution burden, particularly since the late 1970s. An uncertainty-inclusive sediment fingerprinting approach was used to apportion the relative fluxes from the major catchment land cover types of improved pasture, rough grazing, forestry and channel banks. This showed improved pasture and channel banks are the dominant diffuse sources of sediment in the catchment, though forestry sources were important historically. Conversion of rough grazing to improved grassland, coupled with intensified land management and year-round livestock grazing, is concluded to provide the principal source of rising TP levels. Lake Habitat Survey and particle size analysis of lake cores demonstrate the hydromorphological impact of the River Dee Regulation Scheme, which controls water level and periodically diverts flow into Llyn Tegid from the adjacent Afon Tryweryn catchment. This hydromorphological impact has also been most pronounced since the late 1970s. It is concluded that an integrated approach combining land management to reduce agricultural runoff allied to improved water level regulation enabling recovery of littoral macrophytes offers the greatest chance halting the on-going cyanobacteria issue in Llyn Tegid.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)832-843
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Geography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012


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