Physical Controls on Delta Formation and Carbon Storage in Mountain Lakes

Friday, 19 December 2014
Dan Scott and Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States
Carbon acts as a component in greenhouse gases that regulate global climate. It is imperative to understand the transport and storage of carbon in order to understand and manage climate change. We examine terrestrial carbon storage in mountain lake deltas as a way of furthering our understanding of the terrestrial carbon sink, which is a poorly understood but significant contributor to the global carbon cycle. We examined subalpine lake deltas in the Washington Cascade Range and Colorado Front Range to test the following hypotheses: 1) The size of the deltaic carbon sink is strongly correlated with incision at the outlet of the lake and the topography of the basin. 2) Areas of high exhumation rates will have smaller and fewer deltas because a high exhumation rate should lead to more confined basins and more colluvium available to dam lake outlets, preventing lake level drop and corresponding delta formation. 3) High-energy deltas will transport more carbon to lakes, avoiding the deltaic carbon sink. At 27 lakes, we surveyed mountain lake deltas and took sediment samples, surveyed lake outlets in the field, and measured lake valley confinement in GIS to test hypotheses 1 and 3. Across the Snoqualmie and Skykomish watersheds in the Washington Cascades and the Colorado Front Range, we took a census of the number of natural lakes and the proportion of those lakes with deltas to test hypothesis 2. Preliminary results indicate that the Washington Cascades (high exhumation rate) have a higher density of lakes, but fewer deltas, than the Colorado Front Range (low exhumation rate). We also suspect that deltas in the Washington Cascades will have a lower carbon content than the Colorado Front Range due to generally higher energy levels on deltas. Finally, we found a substantial difference in the geomorphology and sediment type between beaver-affected and non-beaver-affected lakes in the Colorado Front Range.