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Collection, analysis, and age-dating of sediment cores from 56 U.S. lakes and reservoirs sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey, 1992-2001

June 2, 2005

The U.S. Geological Survey Reconstructed Trends National Synthesis study collected sediment cores from 56 lakes and reservoirs between 1992 and 2001 across the United States. Most of the sampling was conducted as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. The primary objective of the study was to determine trends in particle-associated contaminants in response to urbanization; 47 of the 56 lakes are in or near one of 20 U.S. cities. Sampling was done with gravity, piston, and box corers from boats and push cores from boats or by wading, depending on the depth of water and thickness of sediment being sampled. Chemical analyses included major and trace elements, organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, cesium-137, and lead-210. Age-dating of the cores was done on the basis of radionuclide analyses and the position of the pre-reservoir land surface in the reservoir and, in a few cases, other chemical or lithologic depth-date markers. Dates were assigned in many cores on the basis of assumed constant mass accumulation between known depth-date markers. Dates assigned were supported using a variety of other date markers including first occurrence and peak concentrations of DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls and peak concentration of lead. A qualitative rating was assigned to each core on the basis of professional judgment to indicate the reliability of age assignments. A total of 122 cores were collected from the 56 lakes and age dates were assigned to 113 of them, representing 54 of the 56 lakes. Seventy-four of the 122 cores (61 percent) received a good rating for the assigned age dates, 28 cores (23 percent) a fair rating, and 11 cores (9 percent) a poor rating; nine cores (7 percent) had no dates assigned. An analysis of the influence of environmental factors on the apparent quality of age-dating of the cores concluded that the most important factor was the mass accumulation rate (MAR) of sediment: the greater the MAR, the better the temporal discretization in the samples and the less important the effects of postdepositional sediment disturbance. These age-dated sediment cores provide the basis for local-, regional-, and national-scale interpretations of water-quality trends.