Articles | Volume 13, issue 12
Research article
20 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 20 Jun 2016

Are flood-driven turbidity currents hot spots for priming effect in lakes?

Damien Bouffard and Marie-Elodie Perga

Abstract. In deep stratified lakes, such as Lake Geneva, flood-driven turbidity currents are thought to contribute to the replenishment of deep oxygen by significant transport of river waters saturated with oxygen into the hypolimnion. The overarching aim of this study was to test this long-standing hypothesis directly. It combines direct observational data collected during an extreme flooding event that occurred in May 2015 with dark bioassays designed to evaluate the consequences of river-borne inputs for the hypolimnetic respiration. The exceptional precipitation events of May 2015 caused floods with an annual return time for the Rhône River, the dominant tributary of Lake Geneva, and with 50-year return time for the Dranse River, the second-most important tributary. Sediment-loaded river flows generated turbidity currents plunging into the lake hypolimnion. The observed river intrusions contributed to the redistribution of dissolved oxygen, with no net gain, when occurring in the lowermost hypolimnetic layer. In the uppermost hypolimnion above the last deep-mixing event, the intrusions coincided with a net oxygen deficit. Consistent with field observations, dark bioassays showed that 1 to 50 % substitution of riverine organic matter to deep (< 200 m) hypolimnetic water did not affect microbial respiration, while the addition of 1 to 10 % of riverine water to the uppermost hypolimnetic waters resulted in a respiration over-yielding, i.e. excess respiration of both river-borne and lacustrine organic matter. The results of our study conflict with the hypothesis that flood-driven turbidity currents necessarily increase hypolimnetic oxygen stocks in Lake Geneva. In contrast, results show that flood-driven turbidity currents can be potential hot spots for priming effect in lakes.

Short summary
This survey of an exceptional flood over Lake Geneva challenges the long-standing hypothesis that dense, particle-loaded and oxygenated rivers plunging into lakes necessarily contribute to deep-oxygen replenishment. We identified some river intrusions as hot spots for oxygen consumption, where inputs of fresh river-borne organic matter reactivate the respiration of more refractory lacustrine organic matter in a process referred to as "priming effect".
Final-revised paper