Lake Winnipeg supports the largest commercial fishery on Canadian Prairies. It has been influenced by a variety of environmental forces and anthropogenic activities. To gain a better understanding of recent changes in nutrient status of the lake, it is important to reconstruct its previous history from sedimentary records. Lacustrine sediments are known to be an important sink of many dissolved and suspended substances, including phosphorus, hence, they provide a permanent historical record of changes occurring in the lake. These changes may be induced by natural factors or by anthropogenic activities in the watershed. Phosphorus profiles from dated sediment cores collected in 1999 and 1994 from the South Basin of Lake Winnipeg were investigated to determine phosphorus enrichment in recent sediments. To interpret the nutrient status and depositional conditions responsible for the trends in total phosphorus, three operationally defined forms of phosphorus (P) were determined: non-apatite inorganic P, apatite P, and organic P. Significant increases in sediment phosphorus concentrations were observed in the uppermost 20 cm of the cores and several anomalies were observed at depth. A doubling in total phosphorus relative to aluminum over the last fifty years is largely due to increases in the non-apatite inorganic fraction, suggesting that much of sedimentary phosphorus increase is attributable to changes in the nutrient status of the water column related to anthropogenic inputs. Organic phosphorus exhibits a subtle increase in the upper 20 cm of the gravity cores, likely due to increases in the primary productivity of the lake. Except for the slight increase in deeper sediments, apatite phosphorus, which is thought to be of detrital origin, remained fairly constant over the length of the cores. Anomalous spikes in phosphorus concentrations deeper in the cores, comprised mainly of the non-apatite inorganic phosphorus fraction, likely resulted from natural variation in local oxidizing conditions, possibly induced by changes in water circulation and/or changes in sediment deposition rates due to climatic variation. The results of this investigation contribute to increased understanding of the depositional history of phosphorus in the lake over the last millennium.

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