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A protocol for determining lake acidification pathways


The chemistry of 282 sampled low pH (<6.0) lakes in the U.S. E.P.A. Eastern Lake Survey (ELS) was evaluated in an attempt to assess why these systems have low pH. Evaluations were made using a decision protocol for classifying lakes according to several hypothesized acidifying mechanisms: acidic deposition, presence of wetlands and organic soils, acid mine drainage, watershed S sources, salt driven acidification, and changes in land use. The algorithm evaluates lakes in three steps: (1) initial exclusion criteria exclude from consideration lakes with pH greater than 6.0 or subject to strong confounding influences (e.g., road salt); (2) a general classification discriminates between lakes according to anion dominance; and (3) a secondary classification of lakes within each anion dominant class determines the most likely acidification pathway, using preliminary quantitative criteria designed to discriminate among competing hypotheses. Results computed for sampled lakes were scaled-up to produce regional population estimates, using the statistical framework of the ELS. Acidic deposition appears to be the most likely cause of low pH conditions in about two-thirds of the non-excluded lakes in the ELS low pH target population. Organic acidity arising from wetlands or land use changes appears to be primarily responsible for the low pH status of one quarter of these lakes. Watershed S sources and acid mine drainage appear to be of negligible importance, though further information on dry deposition rates and/or watershed soils is required to confirm this.

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Marmorek, D.R., Bernard, D.P., Wedeles, C.H.R. et al. A protocol for determining lake acidification pathways. Water Air Soil Pollut 44, 235–257 (1989).

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  • Acid Mine Drainage
  • Acidic Deposition
  • Acidification Pathway
  • Confounding Influence
  • Dominant Class