Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Biogeosciences, 11, 173–184, 2014
Biogeosciences, 11, 173–184, 2014

Research article 10 Jan 2014

Research article | 10 Jan 2014

Long-term trends of water chemistry in mountain streams in Sweden – slow recovery from acidification

H. Borg and M. Sundbom H. Borg and M. Sundbom
  • Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM) Stockholm University 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract. The water chemistry of streams and precipitation in the province of Jämtland, northern Sweden has been monitored since the 1980s to study long-term trends, occurrence of acid episodes, and effects of liming. The acidity in precipitation increased in the 1970s, followed by a loss of acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) and low pH in the streams. Sulfur deposition began to decrease in the 1980s, until approximately 2000, after which the decrease levelled out. Stream water sulfate concentration followed the precipitation trend but decreased more slowly and since the late 1990s a subtle increase was observed. Sulfate concentrations in the snow typically have been higher than or equal to the stream sulfate levels. However, during the period of rapid deposition decrease and also since 2005 stream sulfate has sometimes exceeded snow sulfate, indicating desorption of stored soil sulfate, possibly because of climate-related changes in run-off routes through the soil profiles, following shorter periods of frost.

From 1982 to 2000, total organic carbon (TOC) increased by approximately 0.1 mg L−1 yr−1. The mean trends in sulfate and TOC from approximately 1990 until today were generally opposite.

Acidic episodes with pH 4.0 at flow peaks occurred frequently in the unlimed streams, despite relatively well-buffered waters at baseflow. To evaluate the main causes for the loss of ANC during episodes, the changes in major ion concentrations during high flow episodes were evaluated. The most important factors contributing to ANC loss were dilution of base cations (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+), enrichment of organic anions and enrichment of sulfate. Wetland liming started in 1985 after which the earlier observed extreme peak values of iron, manganese and aluminium, did not reoccur. The studied area is remote from emission sources in Europe, but the critical load of acidity is still exceeded. The long-term recovery observed in the unlimed streams is thus slow, and severe acidic episodes still occur.

Final-revised paper