A Spatially Explicit, Mass-Balance Analysis of Watershed-Scale Controls on Lake Chemistry

  • Charles D. Canham
  • Michael L. Pace


This chapter presents a new approach to analysis of the linkages between watersheds and lakes, based on a simple spatially explicit, watershed-scale model of lake chemistry. The analysis is based on mass balance, and predicts the steady-state mid-summer concentration of any specific nutrient in a lake. The approach is specifically designed to exploit the growing availability of spatially explicit data from watersheds mapped over large regions. Specific hypotheses are tested by comparing alternate forms of the model, using model comparison methods and information theory statistics. Many of the most important results, however, come directly from the maximum likelihood estimates of the parameters of the most parsimonious model. We illustrate how the analysis provides robust empirical estimates of nutrient loading to lakes. The analysis also leads to conclusions about: (1) the relative importance of different land cover types as a source of loading, (2) how losses along flow paths are only significant for a few cover types, and (3) how forests quantitatively dominate inputs while wetland contributions explain much of the among-lake variation in nutrient inputs. Overall, the approach provides a means to test questions on regional scales using the power of large numbers of watersheds that enable robust parameter estimates and comparison of models.


Source Area Cover Type Lake Chemistry Upland Vegetation Upstream Lake 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Aikaike’s Information Criterion


Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation


acid neutralizing capacity


digital elevation model


dissolved organic carbon


Environmental Protection Agency




Geographic Information System








root mean squared error


lake surface area


surface area input



Our work has been supported by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. The work would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of both the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation and the Adirondack Park Agency. We would like to thank our many collaborators, particularly Michael Papaik and Roxane Maranger.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Box ABMillbrookUSA

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