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Effects of acid deposition on ecosystems: Advances in the state of the science

December 1, 2011

Chapter 2 focused on the environmental results of the ARP, presenting data from national monitoring networks on SO2 and NOx emissions, air quality, atmospheric deposition, surface water chemistry, and visibility. This chapter expands on this information by examining the most recent research into how ecosystems respond to acid deposition, especially the processes that control the recovery of ecosystems as acid deposition decreases.

In Chapter 2, two general trends were discussed regarding the current recovery status of affected ecosystems: (1) these ecosystems are trending generally towards recovery, but improvements in ecosystem condition shown by surface water chemistry monitoring data thus far have been less than the improvements in deposition; and (2) ecosystem impacts and trends vary widely by geographic region, but the evidence of improvement is strongest and most evident in the Northeast. These trends are not uniform across the United States, however, and in some regions (e.g., central Appalachian Mountain region), trends in improved water quality are generally not evident.

Despite the strong link in many areas between reduced emissions and reduced acidity of atmospheric deposition, the link is less clear between reduced acidity and recovery of the biological communities that live in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that have experienced deleterious effects from acid deposition. The recovery of these communities is proceeding at a slower pace than, for example, the improvements in stream and lake ANC would indicate. The goal of this chapter is to synthesize the science in a weightof-evidence manner to provide policy makers with tangible evidence and likely causative factors regarding ecosystem status and recovery patterns to date. This chapter serves as an update to the 2005 NAPAP RTC (NSTC, 2005), with an emphasis on scientific studies and monitoring since 2003, which was the last year for consideration of research results in the 2005 report. Several issues pertinent to ecosystem response to emission controls and acid deposition are receiving increasing attention in the scientific literature and will be discussed in this chapter, including the (1) observed delay in ecosystem recovery in the eastern United States, even with decreases in emissions and deposition over the past 30 years; (2) emerging ecosystem impacts of nitrogen deposition in the western United States; (3) the application of critical deposition loads as a tool for scientists to better inform air quality policies; (4) the role of changes in climate and the carbon cycle as factors that affect the response of ecosystems to acid deposition; and (5) the interaction of multiple pollutants in ecosystems. Throughout this chapter, the value of long-term environmental monitoring data in informing air quality policy will be highlighted, including the limitations of assessing the current status of some ecosystem indicators for which continuous, long-term data are lacking. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Effects of acid deposition on ecosystems: Advances in the state of the science
DOI
Authors Douglas A. Burns, Mark E. Fenn, Jill Baron
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70194383
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center

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