Journal article

Density Structure And Tritium-Helium Age Of Deep Hypolimnetic Water In The Northern Basin Of Lake Lugano

Long-term stratification of the deep hypolimnetic waters of the northern basin of Lake Lugano (Lago di Lugano) has resulted in a lack of deep-water renewal which has persisted for decades. Tritium-helium age measurements reveal that deep water has not been in contact with the atmosphere since the 1960s. Higher primary production associated with the significant increase in phosphorus concentration which occurred at this time resulted in greater autochthonous gross sedimentation rates, increasing the rate of mineralization and, consequently, the rate of release of dissolved solids (mainly HCO3- and Ca2+) into the deep hypolimnion. This gave rise to an intensification of the stratification and to a consequent reduction in the vertical exchange of hypolimnetic water layers. Today, the density stabilizing effect of ion release due to mineralization in the deep water is four to five times greater than the destabilizing effect of the geothermal heat flux from the earth's interior. It is known from laboratory experiments that such small density gradient ratios are likely to give rise to double-diffusive instabilities. However, even rudimentary mass balance calculations of biogeochemical components indicate that shear-induced turbulence, most likely generated by bottom currents, mixes far more efficiently than double diffusion. In the future, the biogenic density stratification is likely to persist in the deep water, unless the upward ion flux, driven by primary production, decreases by a factor of four to five.


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