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Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5107

Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service 

Sources and Sinks of Nitrogen and Phosophorus in a Deep, Oligotrophic Lake, Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, Washington

By P.W. Moran, S.E. Cox, S.S. Embrey, R.L. Huffman, T.D. Olsen, and S.C. Fradkin

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (5.9 MB) Abstract

Lake Crescent, in Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington State is a deep-water lake renowned for its pristine water quality and oligotrophic nature. To examine the major sources and sinks of nutrients (as total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and dissolved nitrate), a study was conducted in the Lake Crescent watershed. The study involved measuring five major inflow streams, the Lyre River as the major outflow, recording weather and climatic data, coring lake bed sediment, and analyzing nutrient chemistry in several relevant media over 14 months. Water samples for total nitrogen, total phosphorous, and dissolved nitrate from the five inflow streams, the outlet Lyre River, and two stations in the lake were collected monthly from May 2006 through May 2007. Periodic samples of shallow water from temporary sampling wells were collected at numerous locations around the lake. Concentrations of nutrients detected in Lake Crescent and tributaries were then applied to the water budget estimates to arrive at monthly and annual loads from various environmental components within the watershed. Other sources, such as leaf litter, pollen, or automobile exhaust were estimated from annual values obtained from various literature sources. This information then was used to construct a nutrient budget for total nitrogen and total phosphorus. The nitrogen budget generally highlights vehicle traffic—diesel trucks in particular—along U.S. Highway 101 as a potential major anthropogenic source of nitrogen compounds in the lake. In contrast, contribution of nitrogen compounds from onsite septic systems appears to be relatively minor related to the other sources identified.

First posted September 26, 2013

For additional information contact:
Director, Washington Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
934 Broadway, Suite 300
Tacoma, WA 98402

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Suggested citation:

Moran, P.W., Cox, S.E., Embrey, S.S., Hufffman, R.L., Olsen, T.D., and Fradkin, S.C., 2013, Sources and sinks of nitrogen and phosphorus to a deep, oligotrophic lake, Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5107, 56 p.,




Description of Lake Crescent and the Watershed

Methods of Investigation

Sources and Sinks of Nitrogen And Phosphorous




References Cited

Appendix A. Results of Chemical Analyses on Field Blank-Water, Field-Replicate, and Aqueous Standard-Reference Quality-Control Samples

Appendix B. Daily Mean Streamflows for Fairholm Creek, Lapoel Creek, Smith Creek, Barnes Creek, Piedmont Creek, and Lyre River, Washington, Water Years 2006–07

Appendix C. Results of Chemical Analyses on Water Samples from Lake Crescent and Streams

Appendix D. Results of Chemical Analyses on Bottom-Sediment Core Samples Collected from Lake Crescent, Washington, September 2008

Appendix E. Results of Chemical Analyses and Field Measurements on Water Samples from Piezometers, October 2007

Appendix F. Estimated and Observed Daily Total Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus Loads and Loadest Model Parameters

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