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Volume 1 (2001), Pages 427-442
Review Article

Retention and Internal Loading of Phosphorus in Shallow, Eutrophic Lakes

National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Lake and Estuarine Ecology, Vejls�vej 25, P.O. Box 314, DK-8600 Silkeborg, Denmark

Academic Editor: Karl E. Havens

Copyright © 2001 Martin Sondergaard et al.


This paper gives a general overview of the nature and important mechanisms behind internal loading of phosphorus (P), which is a phenomenon appearing frequently in shallow, eutrophic lakes upon a reduction of the external loading. Lake water quality is therefore not improved as expected. In particular summer concentrations rise and P retention may be negative during most of the summer. The P release originates from a pool accumulated in the sediment when the external loading was high. In most lake sediments, P bound to redox-sensitive iron compounds or P fixed in more or less labile organic forms constitute major fractions forms that are potentially mobile and eventually may be released to the lake water. The duration of the recovery period following P loading reduction depends on the loading history, but it may last for decades in lakes with a high sediment P accumulation. During the phase of recovery, both the duration and net P release rates from the sediment seem to decline progressively. Internal P loading is highly influenced by the biological structure as illustrated by lakes shifting from the turbid to the clearwater state as a result of, for example, biomanipulation. In these lakes P concentrations may be reduced to 50% of the pre-biomanipulation level and the period with negative retention during summer can thus be reduced considerably. The duration of internal loading can be reduced significantly by different restoration methods such as dredging to remove accumulated P or addition of iron or alum to elevate the sorption capacity of sediments. However, an important prerequisite for achieving long-term benefits to water quality is a sufficient reduction of the external P loading.