Publication Date

Summer 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Jason Polk (Director), Leslie North, and Patricia Kambesis

Degree Program

Department of Geography and Geology

Degree Type

Master of Science


A problem exists in Nolin River Lake and Rough River Lake in Kentucky, due to the increasing prevalence of cyanobacterial-based harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) and the threats they pose to local communities. These lakes were developed as artificial reservoirs from embankment. Further complicating the issue, the lakes are located within a heavily karstified region and there exists no plan or method currently for monitoring or managing CyanoHABs in a karst region with regard to groundwater inputs to the lake systems or their tributaries. A mixture of techniques and analysis methods was used to determine the best way to monitor and possibly detect the formation and occurrence of CyanoHABs in artificial lakes that are located in karst landscapes. The methods focused on determining the effect groundwater has on CyanoHAB occurrence and formation, how much nutrient pollution is entering the system, from where the pollution is originating and, ultimately, how best to monitor and develop management practices against CyanoHAB occurrence. Techniques used included dual nitrate isotope tracing, collecting hydrogeochemical data, lake discharge data, historical CyanoHAB data, and biological tracer monitoring in both lakes. The lakes under study showed varying degrees of the influence karst plays in their seasonal changes from summer to winter pools. Lake water temperatures never dropped below the temperatures needed for one of the dominant cyanobacteria, Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii, to grow. Calculations of nutrient loadings indicated that over 3.5 x 106 kg of nitrate moved through Nolin River Lake during the course of the study. The presence and concentrations of E. coli when paired with weather and geochemical data also revealed karst groundwater pulses exerting an influence through the system in response to precipitation events. The nitrogen and oxygen isotope data indicate that a wide variety of nitrate pollution sources are entering the system and that a variety of management techniques must be deployed to combat this complex issue. A holistic approach that focuses on management and education about karst processes and CyanoHABs is suggested, with an emphasis on broader community involvement beyond just the populations living adjacent to the lakes.


Geochemistry | Geology | Marine Biology | Natural Resources and Conservation