Mountain Lake, Presidio National Park, San Francisco: Paleoenvironment, heavy metal contamination, sedimentary record rescue, remediation, and public outreach
Abstract:Sediment cores from Mountain Lake, a small natural lake in Presidio National Park, San Francisco, CA, provide a record of Bay Area environmental change spanning the past 2000 years, and of unusually high heavy metal contamination in the last century (Reidy 2001). In 2013, partial dredging of the lake removed the upper two meters of lake sediment as part of a remediation effort. Prior to dredging, long and short cores spatially covering the lake and representing deep and shallow environments were recovered from the lake to preserve the paleoenvironmental record of one of the only natural lakes on the San Francisco Peninsula. The cores are curated at LacCore and are available for research by the scientific community.
Mountain Lake formed in an interdunal depression and was shallow and fluctuating in its first few hundred years. Lake level rise and inundation of a larger area was followed by lowstands under drier conditions around 550-700 and 1300 CE. Nonnative taxa and cultivars appeared at the time of Spanish settlement in the late 18th century, and the lake underwent eutrophication due to livestock pasturing. U.S. Army landscaping introduced trees to the watershed in the late 19th century. The upper ~1m of sediments document unusually high heavy metal contamination, especially for lead and zinc, caused by the construction and heavy use of Highway 1 on the lake shore. Lead levels peak in 1975 and decline towards the surface, reflecting the history of leaded gasoline use in California. Zinc is derived mainly from automobile tires, and follows a pattern similar to that of lead, but continues to increase towards the surface.
Ongoing research includes additional radiocarbon dating and detailed lithological analysis to form the basis of lake-level reconstruction and archeological investigations. Because the Presidio archaeological record does not record human habitation in the area until approximately 1300 years before present, the core analysis also has the potential to determine whether people lived at the tip of the SF peninsula as early as 2000 BP.
In October 2014 the Presidio Trust opened a Heritage Gallery that interprets the cultural and natural history of the park for the public. The Mountain Lake sedimentary record is an important component of this exhibit, which includes an epoxy-embedded core from the lake.