The impact of acid deposition and forest harvesting on lakes and their forested catchments in south central Ontario: a critical loads approach
Abstract. The impact of acid deposition and tree harvesting on three lakes and their representative sub-catchments in the Muskoka-Haliburton region of south-central Ontario was assessed using a critical loads approach. As nitrogen dynamics in forest soils are complex and poorly understood, for simplicity and to allow comparison among lakes and their catchments, CLs (A) for both lakes and forest soils were calculated assuming that nitrate leaching from catchments will not change over time (i.e. a best case scenario). In addition, because soils in the region are shallow, base cation weathering rates for the representative sub-catchments were calculated for the entire soil profile and these estimates were also used to calculate critical loads for the lakes. These results were compared with critical loads obtained by the Steady State Water Chemistry (SSWC) model. Using the SSWC model, critical loads for lakes were between 7 and 19 meq m-2yr-1 higher than those obtained from soil measurements. Lakes and forests are much more sensitive to acid deposition if forests are harvested, but two acid-sensitive lakes had much lower critical loads than their respective forested sub-catchments implying that acceptable acid deposition levels should be dictated by the most acid-sensitive lakes in the region. Under conditions that assume harvesting, the CL (A) is exceeded at two of the three lakes and five of the six sub-catchments assessed in this study. However, sulphate export from catchments greatly exceeds input in bulk deposition and, to prevent lakes from falling below the critical chemical limit, sulphate inputs to lakes must be reduced by between 37% and 92% if forests are harvested. Similarly, sulphate leaching from forested catchments that are harvested must be reduced by between 16 and 79% to prevent the ANC of water draining the rooting zone from falling below 0 μeq l-1. These calculations assume that extremely low calcium leaching losses (9–27 μeq l-1) from forest soils can be maintained without any decrease in forest productivity. Calcium concentrations in the three lakes have decreased by between ∼10 and 25% over the past 20 years and calculations assume that calcium concentrations in lakes can fall to around 30% of their current values without any harmful effects on biota. Both these assumptions require urgent investigation.
Keywords: acid deposition, calcium, critical loads, forests, harvesting, lakes