Lake/watershed sulfur budgets and their response to decreases in atmospheric sulfur deposition: Watershed and climate controls

Myron J. Mitchell, Charles T. Driscoll, Patrick J. Mchale, Karen M. Roy, Zheng Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Atmospheric sulfur (S) emissions peaked in North America in the early 1970s followed by declines in S deposition and sulfate (SO42-) concentrations in surface waters. Changes in S biogeochemistry affect the mobilization of toxic (Al+3, H+) and nutrient (Ca2+, Mg2+, K+) cations, and the acid-base status of ecosystems. We focused on lake/watersheds in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, USA, one of the most acid-sensitive and acid-impacted regions in North America. We used 16 of the 17 original Adirondack Long-Term Monitoring Lakes from 1984 through 2010 and found significant declines (-2.14 μmolc l-1year-1) in SO42- concentrations. There were significant declines (-0.28kgS ha-1year-1) in total S deposition for all lake/watersheds. We constructed S mass balances for 14 lakes/watersheds from wet and dry S deposition and SO42- loss from drainage and found a comparable decline (-0.26kgS ha-1year-1) in lake SO42- export. There was a discrepancy (mean 2.34kgS ha-1year-1) between atmospheric S deposition and watershed S loss due to internal S sources. Using major solute chemistry including dissolved silica and watershed characteristics, it was evident that the watershed S budget discrepancy increased with thickness of surficial deposits. The annual discrepancies in S mass balances were strongly linked with annual watershed discharge. These results suggest that internal S sources are becoming increasingly important as atmospheric S inputs have declined. The internal SO42- supply of watersheds decreased concomitantly with lake acid neutralizing capacity (ANC). These findings suggest that the limited contributions from internal sources of SO42- will facilitate the recovery of ANC from those lake/watersheds with the lowest ANC. With long-term decreases in atmospheric S deposition, the effects of climate, especially increases in precipitation, will play an increasingly important role in regulating S budgets and the amount of SO42- mobilized from internal watershed sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)710-720
Number of pages11
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number5
StatePublished - Feb 28 2013


  • Adirondack Mountains
  • Cations
  • Climate change
  • Forested watersheds
  • New York State, USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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