May 6, 2020
Journal Article

Geo- and Biogeochemical Processes in a Heliothermal Hypersaline Lake

Andrew Felmy
Mark Bowden
Steve Lindemann
Jim Fredrickson
Jim Moran
Tom Resch
Alexandra Cory


Water chemical variations were investigated over three annual hydrologic cycles in hypersaline, heliothermal, meromictic Hot Lake in north-central Washington State, USA. The lake, originally studied by Anderson (1958), contains diverse biota with dramatic zonation related to salinity and redox state. Water samples were collected at 10 cm depth intervals through the shallow lake (2.4 m) at a consistent location during 2012-2014, with comprehensive monitoring performed in 2013. Inorganic salt species, total dissolved solids (TDS), dissolved carbon forms (DOC, DIC), oxygen, sulfide, and methane were analyzed in lake water samples. Depth sonde measurements of pH and temperature were also performed to track their seasonal variations. A bathymetric survey of the lake was conducted to enable lake water volume and solute inventory calculations. Sediment cores were collected at low water and analyzed by x-ray diffraction to investigate sediment mineralogy. The primary dissolved salt in Hot Lake water was Mg2+-SO42- while sediments were dominated by gypsum (CaSO4•2H2O). Lake water concentrations increased with depth to reach saturation with epsomite that was exposed at lake bottom. At maximum volume in spring, Hot Lake exhibited a relatively dilute mixolimnion containing phyto- and zooplankton; a lower saline metalimnion with stratified oxygenic and anoxygenic photosynthetic microbiologic communities; and a stable, hypersaline monimolimnion, separated from above layers by a chemocline, containing high levels of sulfide and methane. The thickness of the mixolimnion regulates a heliothermal effect which creates temperatures in excess of 60 oC in the underlying metalimnion and monimolimnion. The mixolimnion was dynamic and actively mixed. It displayed large pH variations, in-situ calcium carbonate precipitation, and large evaporative volume losses. The depletion of this ephemeral layer by fall allowed deeper mixing into the volume-stable lower mixolimnion, more rapid heat exchange, and lower winter lake temperatures. Solubility calculations indicated seasonal biogenic and thermogenic aragonite precipitation in the upper and lower mixolimnion, but the absence of calcareous sediments at depth suggested dissolution and recycling during winter months. Carbon concentrations were high in Hot Lake (e.g., 0 to 450 mg/L for both DOC and DIC) and increased with depth. DIC concentrations were variable and influenced by calcium carbonate precipitation, but DOC concentrations remained constant except in the monimolimnion where mass loss by anaerobic microbial processes was implied. Biogenic reduced solutes originating in monimolimnion (H2S and CH4) appeared to be biologically oxidized in the metalimnion as they were not observed in more shallow lake waters. Multi-year solute inventory calculations indicated that Hot Lake is a stable, albeit seasonally and annually dynamic feature, with inorganic solutes cycled between lake waters and sediments depending on annual recharge, temperature, and lake water dilution state. Hot Lake with its extreme geochemical and thermal regime functions as analogue of early earth and extraterrestrial life environments.

Revised: May 6, 2020 | Published: March 17, 2016


Zachara J.M., J.J. Moran, C.T. Resch, S.R. Lindemann, A.R. Felmy, M.E. Bowden, and A.B. Cory, et al. 2016. "Geo- and Biogeochemical Processes in a Heliothermal Hypersaline Lake." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 181. PNNL-SA-108309. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2016.02.001