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Elk Lake is located in the forested region of north-central Minnesota at the headwaters of the Mississippi River and occupies one of countless basins left behind as the last great Pleistocene ice sheet retreated northward into Canada. In this respect it resembles many other moderately deep, dimictic, hard-water lakes in the north-central United States, the sediments of which contain a history of postglacial and Holocene climatic and environmental change. Elk Lake is different, however, because the Holocene sediments in the deeper part of the lake form an uninterrupted sequence of annual laminations or varves. The varves are a chronometer for timing precisely the biologic, geochemical, and sedimentological responses in the lake to cyclic and progressive changes in climate. The varves also, through profound changes in their composition, divide the history of Elk Lake into three, sharply defined episodes; a postglacial lake, a prairie lake, and a modern, mesic-forest lake. We use these episodes and the character of the varves as a framework to guide the reader to the chapters and discussions found in this volume.

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