Magazine article Science News

Acid Rain: Lowdown on Health of Lakes

Magazine article Science News

Acid Rain: Lowdown on Health of Lakes

Article excerpt

Acid rain: Lowdown on health of lakes

A large share of northeastern U.S. lakes may be suffering severe -- and potentially unrecognized -- ecosystem damage from acid rain, a new study indicates. While the most vulnerable species tend to be ones humans consider relatively unimportant--such as leeches, mollusks and insects--they are integral to a lake's overall health. Indeed, according to the new analysis, their dying out not only is a symptom of the ecosystem's decline, but also sets the stage for the loss of more prized species, such as trout, pike and sunfish.

In 1976, David W. Schindler and his colleagues at the Canadian governmenths Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba, initiated an unusual experiment. Over eight years, they systematically added sulfuric acid to a small Canadian lake, dramatically lowering its pH from a nearly neutral 6.8 to a very acidic 5. As the acidification progressed, the researchers carefully monitored its impact on plants and animals in the lake. They found that crustaceans and many phytoplankton disappeared, fish ceased to reproduce and new algae appeared.

Schindler and his colleagues have now correlated these and related data -- from studies comparing species deiversity in normal and acidified lakes -- with chemical assessments for 6,351 U.S. lakes identified in the Environmental Protection Agency's Eastern Lakes Survey as being acid-sensitive (having soft water). Their findings, published in the May ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, suggest many of these lakes have already suffered serious biological impoverishment. …

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