Author ORCID Identifier

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Integrative Life Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. S. Leigh McCallister


Over the past few decades, there has been increased research focus on carbon cycling within aquatic systems, especially with the changing global climate. Inland waters play a major role in the global carbon cycle, but the fundamental features remain poorly understood, particularly the large lakes of the world. Our experimental approach assessing the carbon budget of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake by area, provides spatial and temporal variability that has been previously overlooked but may be critical to our understanding on the biogeochemical processes controlling the lake. Multiple stations were chosen across the lake, both nearshore and offshore, to evaluate the variability in physical mixing regimes and biogeochemical processing. Short and long-term carbon consumption measurements were coupled to assess the heterotrophic activity relative to the lability of dissolved organic carbon. Partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) was directly measured to determine the metabolic nature of the lake and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that fluxes across the air-water interface. The pCO2 results were further coupled with an isotopic approach measuring oxygen-18 (δ18O) to evaluate how the metabolism of Lake Superior has changed over a decadal scale.

A range of environmental factors, including temperature, photodegradation and source/quality of organic carbon, influenced short and long-term carbon consumption. In-situ pCO2 observations supported a temporal switch in metabolism from the lake being a source of CO2 in the spring to being a sink in the summer driven by biological components of the system. When the pCO2 results were coupled with the isotopic measurements over the past decade (1999-2011), Lake Superior was dominated by respiration during isothermal conditions and production during stratification. In the past decade, Lake Superior has experienced increased surface water temperatures, shifting the metabolic state to a shorter net heterotrophic period in the spring and a longer net autotrophic period in the summer. This research highlights fundamental aspects of Lake Superior’s metabolism that have been previously understudied, as well as providing key information about processes controlling its carbon budget, and giving a better understanding of how climate change will continue to impact Lake Superior.


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