Long-term predictions of ecosystem acidification and recovery

Skeffington, Richard A.; Cosby, B. Jack; Whitehead, Paul G.. 2016 Long-term predictions of ecosystem acidification and recovery. Science of the Total Environment, 568. 381-390.

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This paper considers the long-term (500 year) consequences of continued acid deposition, using a small forested catchment in S. England as an example. The MAGIC acidification model was calibrated to the catchment using data for the year 2000, and run backwards in time for 200 years, and forwards for 500. Validation data for model predictions were provided by various stream and soil measurements made between 1977 and 2013. The model hindcast suggests that pre-industrial stream conditions were very different from those measured in 2000. Acid Neutralising Capacity (ANC) was +150 μeq L−1 and pH 7.1: there was little nitrate (NO3). By the year 2000, acid deposition had reduced the pH to 4.2 and ANC to c. −100 μeq L−1, and NO3 was increasing in the stream. The future state of the catchment was modelled using actual deposition reductions up to 2013, and then based on current emission reduction commitments. This leads to substantial recovery, to pH 6.1, ANC +43 μeq L−1, though it takes c. 250 years. Then, however, steady acidification resumes, due to continued N accumulation in the catchment and leaching of NO3. Soil data collected using identical methods in 1978 and 2013 show that MAGIC correctly predicts the direction of change, but the observed data show more extreme changes – reasons for this are discussed. Three cycles of forest growth were modelled – this reduces NO3 output substantially during the active growth phase, and increases stream pH and ANC, but acidifies the soil which continues to accumulate nitrogen. The assumptions behind these results are discussed, and it is concluded that unmanaged ecosystems will not return to a pre-industrial state in the foreseeable future.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
CEH Sections/Science Areas: Emmett
ISSN: 0048-9697
Additional Keywords: modelling, catchment, watershed, forest, nitrogen, acidity
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 29 Sep 2016 11:19 +0 (UTC)

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