Surface water acidification and critical loads: exploring the F-factor
- Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
Abstract. As acid deposition decreases, uncertainties in methods for calculating critical loads become more important when judgements have to be made about whether or not further emission reductions are needed. An important aspect of one type of model that has been used to calculate surface water critical loads is the empirical F-factor which estimates the degree to which acid deposition is neutralised before it reaches a lake at any particular point in time relative to the pre-industrial, steady-state water chemistry conditions.
In this paper we will examine how well the empirical F-functions are able to estimate pre-industrial lake chemistry as lake chemistry changes during different phases of acidification and recovery. To accomplish this, we use the dynamic, process-oriented biogeochemical model SAFE to generate a plausible time series of annual runoff chemistry for ca. 140 Swedish catchments between 1800 and 2100. These annual hydrochemistry data are then used to generate empirical F-factors that are compared to the "actual" F-factor seen in the SAFE data for each lake and year in the time series. The dynamics of the F-factor as catchments acidify, and then recover are not widely recognised.
Our results suggest that the F-factor approach worked best during the acidification phase when soil processes buffer incoming acidity. However, the empirical functions for estimating F from contemporary lake chemistry are not well suited to the recovery phase when the F-factor turns negative due to recovery processes in the soil. This happens when acid deposition has depleted the soil store of BC, and then acid deposition declines, reducing the leaching of base cations to levels below those in the pre-industrial era. An estimate of critical load from water chemistry during recovery and empirical F functions would therefore result in critical loads that are too low. Therefore, the empirical estimates of the F-factor are a significant source of uncertainty in the estimate of surface water critical loads and related calculations for quantifying lake acidification status, especially now that acid deposition has declined across large areas of Europe and North America.