Holocene and recent sediment accumulation rates in Southern Lake Michigan

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Rates of sediment accumulation in Lake Michigan are a key component of its geologic history and provide important data related to societal concerns such as shoreline erosion and the fate of anthropogenic pollutants. Previous attempts to reconstruct Holocene rates of sediment accumulation in Lake Michigan, as well as in the other Laurentian Great Lakes, have been bedeviled by the effect of refractory terrestrial material on radiocarbon ages from total organic carbon samples of lake sediments. AMS radiocarbon ages on small samples of biogenic carbonate (ostracodes and mollusks) in Lake Michigan provide accurate Holocene ages. The present bicarbonate reservoir effect is estimated from shells of mollusks collected live before atmospheric nuclear testing to be 250 yr. From paired samples of biogenic carbonate and terrestrial macrofossils, the past reservoir effect is thought to be less than 500 yr. The radiocarbon ages indicate a distinct decrease in sediment accumulation rates throughout the southern basin of Lake Michigan at about 5 ka, about the time when lake level stabilized at the Nipissing level after rising rapidly for several thousand years. Average rates of sediment accumulation for the historic period (the last 150 yr) can be estimated from radioisotopes (210Pb and 137Cs), pollen stratigraphy, and changes in sediment properties associated with human activity. Multiple methods are necessary because at any given site, problems arise in the assumptions or applicability of one or more methods. In general, the mass accumulation calculations suggest that sediments were deposited 4 to 11 times faster in the historic period than before human settlement. The character of the sediment did not change in a dramatic way, but sediment magnetic properties suggest shifts in the sources of sediment. The data suggest that some of the changes in sources and (or) character of the sediment occurred just before human settlement and were probably related to climatic changes associated with the Little Ice Age.

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Quaternary Science Reviews