Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Regional trends in aquatic recovery from acidification in North America and Europe

Abstract

Rates of acidic deposition from the atmosphere (‘acid rain’) have decreased throughout the 1980s and 1990s across large portions of North America and Europe1,2. Many recent studies have attributed observed reversals in surface-water acidification at national3 and regional4 scales to the declining deposition. To test whether emissions regulations have led to widespread recovery in surface-water chemistry, we analysed regional trends between 1980 and 1995 in indicators of acidification (sulphate, nitrate and base-cation concentrations, and measured (Gran) alkalinity) for 205 lakes and streams in eight regions of North America and Europe. Dramatic differences in trend direction and strength for the two decades are apparent. In concordance with general temporal trends in acidic deposition, lake and stream sulphate concentrations decreased in all regions with the exception of Great Britain; all but one of these regions exhibited stronger downward trends in the 1990s than in the 1980s. In contrast, regional declines in lake and stream nitrate concentrations were rare and, when detected, were very small. Recovery in alkalinity, expected wherever strong regional declines in sulphate concentrations have occurred, was observed in all regions of Europe, especially in the 1990s, but in only one region (of five) in North America. We attribute the lack of recovery in three regions (south/central Ontario, the Adirondack/Catskill mountains and midwestern North America) to strong regional declines in base-cation concentrations that exceed the decreases in sulphate concentrations.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Lake and stream monitoring sites.
Figure 2: Regional acidification trend results.

References

  1. 1

    Shannon,J. D. Regional trends in wet deposition of sulfate in the United States and SO 2 emissions from 1980 through 1995. Atmos. Environ. 33, 807–816 (1999).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Tarrasson,L. (ed.) Transboundary Acidifying Air Pollution in Europe (International Cooperative Programme for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Long Range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe/Meteorological Synthesizing Centre-West, 1998).

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Skjelkvåle,B. L., Wright,R. F. & Henriksen, A. Norwegian lakes show widespread recovery from acidification; results from national surveys of lakewater chemistry 1986–1997. Hydrol. Earth System Sci. 2, 375–577 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Driscoll,C. T., Likens,G. E. & Church, M. R. Recovery of surface waters in the northeastern U.S. from decreases in atmospheric deposition of sulfur. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 105, 319–329 ( 1998).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Summers,P. W. Time trend of wet deposition acidifying potential at five ecological monitoring sites in Eastern Canada 1981–1993. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 85, 653–658 ( 1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Downing,C. E. H., Vincent,K. J., Campbell,G. W., Fowler,D. & Smith,R. I. Trends in wet and dry deposition of sulphur in the United Kingdom. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 85, 659–664 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Patrick,S., Monteith,D. T. & Jenkins, A. UK Acid Waters Monitoring Network: The First Five Years (Department of the Environment, ENSIS Publishing, London, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Jeffries,D. S. 1997 Canadian Acid Rain Assessment Vol. 3, Aquatic Effects (Environment Canada, Ottawa, 1997).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Ford,J., Stoddard,J. L. & Powers, C. F. Perspectives in environmental monitoring: an introduction to the U.S. EPA Long-Term Monitoring (LTM) project. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 67, 247–255 ( 1993).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Kleemola,S. & Söderman,G. Manual for Integrated Monitoring, Programme Phase 1993–1996 (Environmental Data Center, National Board of Waters and the Environment, Helsinki, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Stoddard,J. L., Driscoll,C. T., Kahl,S. & Kellogg,J. Can site-specific trends be extrapolated to a region? An acidification example for the Northeast. Ecol. Applic. 8, 288–299 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Hirsch,R. M. & Slack,J. R. A nonparametric trend test for seasonal data with serial dependence. Wat. Resour. Res. 20, 727–732 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    van Belle,G. & Hughes,J. P. Nonparametric tests for trend in water quality. Wat. Resour. Res. 20, 127 –136 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Stoddard,J. L., Driscoll,C. T., Kahl,J. S. & Kellogg,J. A regional analysis of lake acidification trends for the northeastern U.S., 1982–1994. Environ. Monit. Assess. 51, 399–413 (1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    International Cooperative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Acidification of Rivers and Lakes. Programme Manual (Programme Centre, Norwegian Inst. for Water Research, Oslo, 1995).

  16. 16

    Stoddard,J. L. in Environmental Chemistry of Lakes and Reservoirs (ed. Baker, L. A.) 223–284 (American Chemical Society, Washington DC, 1994).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Galloway,J. N., Norton,S. A. & Church, M. R. Freshwater acidification from atmospheric deposition of sulfuric acid: A conceptual model. Environ. Sci. Technol. 17, 541–545 (1983).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Cosby,B. J., Hornberger,G. M., Galloway, J. N. & Wright,R. F. Time scales of catchment acidification: A quantitative model for estimating freshwater acidification. Environ. Sci. Technol. 19 , 1144–1149 (1985).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Kirchner,J. W. & Lydersen,E. Base cation depletion and potential long-term acidification of Norwegian catchments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 29, 1953–1960 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Evans,C., Monteith,D. T. & Harriman, R. Long-term variability in the deposition of marine ions at west coast sites in the U.K. Acid Waters Monitoring Network: Impacts on surface water chemistry and significance for trend determination. Sci. Tot. Environ. (in the press).

  21. 21

    Driscoll,C. T., Likens,G. E., Hedin,L. O., Eaton,J. S. & Bormann,F. H. Changes in the chemistry of surface waters: 25-year results at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Environ. Sci. Technol. 23, 137–143 (1989).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Hedin,L. O. et al. Steep declines in atmospheric base cations in regions of Europe and North America. Nature 367, 351– 354 (1994).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Likens,G. E., Driscoll,C. T. & Buso, D. C. Long-term effects of acid rain: Response and recovery of a forest ecosystem. Science 272, 244– 246 (1996).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Lawrence,G. B. et al. Soil calcium status and the response of stream chemistry to changing acidic deposition rates in the Catskill Mountains, New York. Ecol. Applic. (in the press).

  25. 25

    Bayley,S. E., Schindler,D. W., Parker,B. R., Stainton,M. P. & Beaty,K. G. Effects of forest fire and drought on the acidity of a base-poor boreal forest stream: similarities between climatic warming and acidic precipitation. Biogeochemistry 17 , 191–204 (1992).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Dillon,P. J., Molot,L. A. & Futter, M. A note on the effects of El Niño-related drought on the recovery of acidified lakes. Int. J. Environ. Monit. Assess. 46, 105–111 ( 1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Webster,K. E. et al. Structural features of lake districts: Landscape controls on lake chemical responses to drought. Freshwat. Biol. (in the press).

  28. 28

    Webster,K. E. & Brezonik,P. O. Climate confounds detection of chemical trends related to acid deposition in Upper Midwest lakes in the USA. Wat. Air Soil Pollut. 85, 1575– 1580 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Schindler,D. W. et al. The effects of climatic warming on the properties of boreal lakes and streams at the Experimental Lakes Area, northwestern Ontario. Limnol. Oceanogr. 41, 1004–1017 (1996).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Mylona,S. Trends of Sulphur Dioxide Emissions, Air Concentrations and Depositions of Sulphur in Europe since 1880 (International Cooperative Programme for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Long Range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe/Meteorological Synthesizing Centre-West, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the LRTAP Working Group on Effects for their support; this Working Group supports the production of international, quality-controlled, comparable data. We also acknowledge the work of the ICP Programme Centre at the Norwegian Institute of Water Research (NIVA), where the data are collated, verified and archived, and thank T. J. Sullivan and M. R. Church for comments and suggestions. This work was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. L. Stoddard.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Stoddard, J., Jeffries, D., Lükewille, A. et al. Regional trends in aquatic recovery from acidification in North America and Europe. Nature 401, 575–578 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/44114

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing