Response of sulphur dynamics in European catchments to decreasing sulphate deposition
Abstract. Following the decline in sulphur deposition in Europe, sulphate dynamics of catchments and the reversibility of anthropogenic acidification of soils and freshwaters became of major interest. Long-term trends in sulphate concentrations and fluxes in precipitation/throughfall and freshwaters of 20 European catchments were analysed to evaluate catchment response to decreasing sulphate deposition. Sulphate deposition in the catchments studied declined by 38-82% during the last decade. Sulphate concentrations in all freshwaters decreased significantly, but acidification reversal was clearly delayed in the German streams. In Scandinavian streams and Czech/Slovakian lakes sulphate concentrations responded quickly to decreased input. Sulphate fluxes in run-off showed no clear trend in Germany and Italy but decreased in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The decrease, however, was less than the decline in input fluxes. While long-term sulphate output fluxes from catchments were generally correlated to input fluxes, most catchments started a net release of sulphate during the early 1990s. Release of stored sulphate leads to a delay of acidification reversal and can be caused by four major processes. Desorption and excess mineralisation were regarded as the most important for the catchments investigated, while oxidation and weathering were of lesser importance for the long-term release of sulphate. Input from weathering has to be considered for the Italian catchments. Sulphate fluxes in German catchments, with deeply weathered soils and high soil storage capacity, responded more slowly to decreased deposition than catchments in Scandinavia and the Czech Republic/Slovakia, which have thin soils and relatively small sulphate storage. For predictions of acidification reversal, soil characteristics, sulphur pools and their dynamics have to be evaluated in future research.
Keywords: acidification reversal, sulphur, sulphate release, Europe, catchments, deposition, lake, stream