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Biological Sciences


Anthropogenic nitrogen contamination has increased in ecosystems around the world (frequently termed the “nitrogen cascade”). Coke production for steel manufacturing is often overlooked as a source of nitrogen to natural ecosystems. We examined sediment cores from a Horseshoe Lake, a floodplain lake located just East of St. Louis Missouri (USA) to test whether a coking plant effluent could be traced using stable isotopes of nitrogen and diatom microfossils. The distribution of δ15N values in surface sediment samples from the lake shows the highest values near the coking plant effluent. Analysis stable isotopes of nitrogen from sediment cores using a binary mixing model showed three sources of nitrogen since 1688 CE. The first source (active between 1688 and 1920 CE) had a calculated δ15N value of -.8±.4‰. After 1920 a second source with a δ15N of 20.2±2.0 ‰ became active. The diatom microfossil assemblages present from 1688 CE to the late 1800’s are dominated by the planktonic species Aulacoseira granulata and periphytic and benthic genera Gomphonema, Cocconeis, and Lyrella. After the late 1800’s the diatom assemblages are dominated by Staurosira species indicating a shift of species from high flow riverine environments to epipelic species from a lake environment. Our results show how stable isotopes of nitrogen can be used to track nitrogen inputs from industrial sources. They suggest that the high nitrogen input has not been a major source of eutrophication in the lake.


This article is the Accepted Manuscript version of a paper published by Elsevier in Science of the Total Environment, available online at

© 2013. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license