International Journal of Salt Lake Research

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 47–76 | Cite as

Chemical composition of saline and subsaline lakes of the northern Great Plains, western Canada

  • William M. Last


The northern Great Plains of Canada stretch from the Precambrian Shield near Winnipeg, Manitoba, westward for ∼1,700 km to the Rocky Mountains foothills. This vast region of flat to gently rolling terrain contains a very large number of salt lakes. Major ion chemical data on ∼500 of them are available. Although the average brine (salinity, 37 ppt) is a Na+−SO4 2− type of water, the lakes exhibit a wide range of salinities and ionic compositions. This diversity is confirmed by Q-mode cluster analysis; it identified thirteen major water chemistry types. Most ions display distinct trends, both spatially and with increasing salinity. All dissolved components increase with increasing salinity, but at different rates. The relative proportions of Ca2+ and HCO3 +CO3 2− ions show a strong decrease with increasing brine salinity, whereas SO4 2− ions increase with increasing salinity. The ionic proportions of Na+, Mg2+, K+ and Cl exhibit no significant relationship with salinity. R-mode factor analysis of the lake water chemistry, combined with selected environmental parameters, identifies groundwater composition, climate, and the elevation of the lake within the drainage system as most important in controlling brine chemistry and salinity on a regional basis. Variability in source of ions, reaction processes and products are undoubtedly key factors in helping to explain brine chemistry of an individual basin or variation from a local perspective, but these factors are generally poorly understood and not quantified on a regional basis.

Key Words

Canada chemical composition saline Great Plains lakes 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. APHA, 1981.Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater. American Public Health Association, Inc., Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  2. Arakel, A.V., Jacobson, G. and Lyons, W.B., 1990. Sediment-water interaction as a control on geochemical evolution of playa lake systems in the Australian arid interior.Hydrobiologia 197: 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arndt, J.I. and Richardson, J.L. 1992. Carbonate and gypsum chemistry in saturated, neutral pH soil environments. In: R.D. Robarts and M.L. Bothwell (Eds)Aquatic Ecosystems in Semi-Arid Regions: Implications for Resource Management. N.H.R.I. Symposium, Series 7, pp. 179–187. Environment Canada, Saskatoon.Google Scholar
  4. Barica, J., 1975. Geochemistry and nutrient regime of saline eutrophic lakes in the Erickson-Elphinstone district of southwestern Manitoba.Canadian Fisheries and Marine Service, Research and Development, Technical Report Investigation, 4880.Google Scholar
  5. Bell, J.S., 1875. Report on the country between the Red River and the South Saskatchewan, with notes on the geology of the region.Geological Survey of Canada, Progress Report: 1873–74.Google Scholar
  6. Bierhuizen, J.F.H. and Prepas, E.E., 1985. Relationships between nutrient dominant ions, and phytoplankton standing crop in prairie saline lakes.Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 42: 1588–1594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, I.C., (Ed.) 1967. Groundwater in Canada.Geological Survey of Canada, Economic Geology Report No.24: 1–228.Google Scholar
  8. Cole, L.H., 1926. Sodium sulphate of western Canada—Occurrence, uses, and technology.Canadian Department of Mines Publication No.646: 1–160.Google Scholar
  9. Dean, W.E. and Gorham, E., 1976. Major chemical and mineral components of profundal surface sediments in Minnesota lakes.Limnology and Oceanography 21: 259–284Google Scholar
  10. Dowuona, G.N., Mermut, A.R., and Krouse, H.R., 1992. Isotopic composition of salt crusts in Saskatchewan, Canada.Chemical Geology 94: 205–213.Google Scholar
  11. Drever, J.I., 1988.The Geochemistry of Natural Waters. 2nd edition. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliff, N.J.Google Scholar
  12. Driver, E.A., 1965. Limnological aspects of some saline lakes in west-central Manitoba.Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 22: 1165–1173.Google Scholar
  13. Driver, E.A., 1977. The chemistry of surface water in prairie ponds.Hydrobiologia 53: 33–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eriksson, E., 1985.Principles and Applications of Hydrochemistry. Chapman and Hall, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Eugster, H.P. and Jones, B.F., 1979. Behavior of major solutes during closed-basin brine evolution.American Journal of Science 279: 609–631.Google Scholar
  16. Freeze, R.A., 1969. Regional groundwater flow—Old Wives Lake drainage basin, Saskatchewan.Inland Waters Branch, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Scientific Series No.5: 1–245.Google Scholar
  17. Gibbs, R.J., 1967. The geochemistry of the Amazon River system.Geological Society of American Bulletin 78: 1209–1219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gorham, E., Dean, W.E., and Sanger, J.E., 1983. The chemical composition of lakes in the north-central United States.Limnology and Oceanography 28: 287–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Govett, G.J.S., 1958. Sodium sulphate deposits in Alberta.Alberta Research Council Report 58-5: 1–34.Google Scholar
  20. Groenewold, W.H., Koob, R.D., McCarthy, G.J., Rehm, B.W. and Peterson, W.M., 1983. Geological and geochemical controls on the chemical evolution of subsurface water in undisturbed surface-mined landscapes in western North Dakota.North Dakota Geological Survey Report and Investigation 79: 1–151.Google Scholar
  21. Grossman, I.G., 1968. Origin of sodium sulphate deposits of the nothern Great Plains of Canada and United States.U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 600-B: B104-B109.Google Scholar
  22. Grossman, I.G., 1949. The sodium sulphate deposits of western North Dakota: a progress report.North Dakota Geological Survey Report and Investigation No.1: 1–66.Google Scholar
  23. Hammer, U.T., 1986:Saline Lake Ecosystems of the World. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  24. Hammer, U.T., 1978. The saline lakes of Saskatchewan, III. Chemical Characterization.Internationale Revue gesampten Hydrobiologie 63: 311–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hartland-Rowe, R., 1966. The fauna and ecology of temporaty pools in western Canada.Verhandlungen Internationale Vereinigung für theoretische und angewandte Limnologie 16:577–584.Google Scholar
  26. Hendry, M.J., Cherry, J.A. and Wallick, E.I., 1986. Origin and distribution of sulphate in a fractured till in southern Alberta, Canada.Water Resources Research 22: 45–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hitchon, B., Billings, G.K. and Klovan, J.E., 1971. Geochemistry and origin of formation waters in the western Canada sedimentary basin—III. Factors controlling chemical composition.Geochemica et Cosmochimica Acta 35: 567–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howarth, R.J. and Sinding-Larsen, R., 1983. Multivariate analysis. In: R.J. Howarth (Ed.)Statistics and Data Analysis in Geochemical Prospecting, Handbook of Exporation Geochemistry, Volume 2, pp. 207–209, Elsevier, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Jones, B.F. and van Denburgh, A.S., 1966. Geochemical influences on the chemical character of closed lakes. In:Symposium of Garda, Hydrology of Lakes and Reservoirs, Proceedings of the International Association of Scientific Hydrology, Publication70: 438–446.Google Scholar
  30. Joreskog, K.G., Klovan, J.E. and Reyment, R.A., 1976.Geological Factor Analysis. Elsevier, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  31. Keller, C.K., van der Kamp, G. and Cherry, J.A., 1991. Hydrogeochemistry of a clayey till 1. Spatial variability.Water Resources Research 27: 2543–2554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Last, W.M., 1984a. Sedimentology of playa lakes of the northern Great Plains.Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 21: 107–125.Google Scholar
  33. Last, W.M., 1984b. Modern sedimentology and hydrology of Lake Manitoba, Canada.Environmental Geology 5: 177–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Last, W.M., 1989a. Continental brines and evaporites of the northern Great Plains of Canada.Sedimentary Geology 64: 207–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Last, W.M., 1989b. Sedimentology, geochemistry, and evolution of a saline playa in the northern Great Plains. In: R. Rodriguez-Clemente and Y. Tardy (Eds)Geochemistry and Mineral Formation at the Earth Surface, pp. 319–337. C.R.I.S.O., Madrid.Google Scholar
  36. Last, W.M., 1992. Sart lake paleolimnology in the northern Great Plains: the facts, the fears, the future. In: R.D. Robarts and M.L. Bothwell (Eds)Aquatic Ecosystems in Semi-Arid Regions: Implications for Resource Management. N.H.R.I. Symposium, Series7, pp. 51–62. Environment Canada, Saskatoon.Google Scholar
  37. Last, W.M. and Schweyen, T.H., 1983. Sedimentology and geochemistry of saline lakes of the northern Great Plains.Hydrobiologia 105: 245–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Last, W.M. and Slezak, L.A., 1987. Sodium sulphate deposits of western Canada: geology, mineralogy, and origin. In: C.F. Gilboy and L.W. Vigrass (Eds)Economic Minerals of Saskatchewan.Saskatchewan Geological Society Special Publication No.8: 197–205.Google Scholar
  39. Lennox, D.H., Maathuis, H. and Pederson, D., 1988. Region 13, Western Glaciated Plains. In: W. Back, J.S. Rosenshein and P.R. Seaber (Eds)Hydrogeology: The Geology of North America, VolumeO–2: 115–128.Google Scholar
  40. Lieffers, V.J. and Shay, J.M., 1983. Ephemeral saline lakes on the Canadian prairies: their classification and management for emergent macrophyte growth.Hydrobiologia 105: 85–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McKay, G.A. and Stichling, W., 1961. Evaporation computations for Prairie reservoirs. In:Proceedings, Hydrology Symposium Number 2, Evaporation. pp. 140–146. Queen’s Printer, Ottawa.Google Scholar
  42. Meneley, W.A. and Whitaker, S.H., 1970. Geohydrology of the Moose Mountain upland in southeastern Saskatchewan.Saskatchewan Research Council Geological Division Circular 3: 1–52.Google Scholar
  43. Mermut, A.R. and Arshad, M.A., 1987. Significance of sulfide oxidation in soil salinization in southern Saskatchewan, Canada.Journal of the Soil Science Society of America 51: 247–251.Google Scholar
  44. Moran, S.R., Groenewold, G.H. and Cherry, J.A., (1978). Geologic, hydrologicand geochemical concepts and techniques in characterization for mined-land reclamation.North Dakota Geological Survey Report and Investigations No.63: 1–152 pp.Google Scholar
  45. Northcote, T.G. and Larkin, P.A., 1963. Western Canada. In: D.G. Frey (Ed.)Limnology in North America, pp. 451–469. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  46. Rawson, D.S. and Moore, G.E., 1944. The saline lakes of Saskatchewan.Canadian Journal of Research (Series D)22: 141–201.Google Scholar
  47. Ray, A.A., (Ed.) 1982.SAS User’s Guide: Statistics. SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC.Google Scholar
  48. Reeder, S.W., Hitchon, B. and Levinson, A.A., 1972. Hydrogeochemistry of the surface waters of the Mackenzie River drainage basin, Canada—I. Factors controlling inorganic composition.Geochemica et Cosmochimica Acta 36: 825–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Renaut, R.W., 1990. Recent carbonate sedimentation and brine evolution in the saline lake basins of the Cariboo Plateau, British Columbia, Canada.Hydrobiologia 197: 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rock, N.M.S., 1988. Numerical Geology.Lecture Notes in Earth Sciences, Volume18, Springer-Verlag, New York.Google Scholar
  51. Rozkowska, A.D. and Roskowski, A., 1969. Seasonal changes of slough and lake water chemistry in southern Saskatchewan, Canada.Journal of Hydrology 7: 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roskowski, A., 1965. The origin of hydrochemical patterns in hummocky morain.Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 4: 1065–1092.Google Scholar
  53. Rueffel, P.G., 1968. Development of the largest sodium sulphate deposit in Canada.Canadian Mines Metallurgy 61: 1217–1228.Google Scholar
  54. Rutherford, A.A., 1970. Water quality survey of Saskatchewan surface waters.Saskatchewan Research Council C70-1: 1–133.Google Scholar
  55. Sahinen, U.M., 1956. Preliminary report on sodium sulphate in Montana.Bureau of Mines and Geology, Investigation Circular 11: 1–9.Google Scholar
  56. Sloan, C.E., 1972. Groundwater hydrology of the prairie potholes in North Dakota.U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 585C: 1–28.Google Scholar
  57. Timpson, M.E. and Richardson, J.L., 1986. Ionic composition and distribution in saline seeps of southwestern North Dakota, U.S.A.Geoderma 37: 295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Timpson, M.E., Richardson, J.L., Keller, L.P. and McCarthy, G.J., 1986. Evaporite mineralogy associated with saline seeps in southwestern North Dakota.Journal of the Soil Science Society of America 50: 490–493.Google Scholar
  59. Thomas, J.F.J., 1959. Industrial water resources of Canada. Nelson River drainage basin in Canada, 1953–56.Canadian Water Survey, Report No.10: 1–147.Google Scholar
  60. van Everdingen, R.O., 1971. Surface water composition in southern Manitoba reflecting discharge of saline subsurface waters and subsurface solution of evaporites. In: A.C. Turnock (Ed.)Geoscience Studies in Manitoba.Geological Association of Canada Special Paper 9: 343–352.Google Scholar
  61. Wallick, E.I., 1981. Chemical evolution of groundwater in a drainage basin of Holocene age, east central Alberta, Canada.Journal of Hydrology 54: 245–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wallick, E.I. and Krouse, H.R., 1980. Source and evolution of the sulfur isotope composition of Upper Cretaceous sediments and associated groundwater, Alberta, Canada.3rd International Symposium on Water-Rock Interaction. Abstracts Volume, Edmonton, Alberta.Google Scholar
  63. Wallick, E.I. and Krouse, H.R., 1977. Sulphur isotope geochemistry of a groundwater generated Na2SO4/Na2CO3 deposit and the associated drainage basin of Horseshoe Lake, Metiskow, east-central Alberta, Canada.Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Water-Rock Interaction. Strasbourg. pp 1156–1164.Google Scholar
  64. Whitaker, S.H., 1974. Geology and groundwater resources of the Willowbunch area (72-H), Saskatchewan.Saskatchewan Research Council Geology Division Map No.20.Google Scholar
  65. Winter, T.C., 1977. Classification of the hydrologic settings of lakes in the North Central United States.Water Resources Research 13: 753–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Witkind, I.J., 1952. The localization of sodium sulphate deposits in northeastern Montana and northwestern North Dakota.American Journal of Science 250: 667–676.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • William M. Last
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations