Acidification of Fresh Water
Since carbon dioxide dissolves in atmosphericmoisture to form carbonic acid, rain is naturallyacidic (pH 5.6). Fossil fuel combustion in powerstations and vehicles releases acidic gases whichintensify and accelerate the process of acidification(Figure 2).Acid rain is a misnomer. Acid deposition is a moreaccurate term since it includes dry deposition eg.sulphur which falls relatively near to the pollutionsource and wet deposition which can be carriedthousands of miles before being deposited i.e. itis a trans-boundary pollutant.Acid rain affects fresh water ecosystems bothdirectly and indirectly. Sudden changes in waterpH, as may result from the rapid influx of a snowmelt, may be lethal to invertebrates and fish.More seriously, when the pH of acidified soilsfalls below 4.2, aluminium becomes soluble andmay enter aquatic ecosystems. High aluminiumconcentrations:1. Adversely affect the ability of fish gills toregulate cations such as sodium. The resultingosmotic imbalance can be fatal.2. Causes excess mucus production which leadsto clogging of the gills and suffocation.3. Interferes with calcification of the skeletons of fish fry and therefore recruitment (the percentageof young fish which develop into adults) decreasesand the population decreases.Even gradual acidification will have serious effectson species diversity. A typical progression isshown in Table 2.
Eutrophication is the enrichment of fresh water by excess nutrients, usually nitrogen andphosphorus. It is a natural process which humans have greatly accelerated. The nutrient statusof lakes increases naturally as sediment constantly reaches it in streams or through direct soilerosion. Thus an oligotrophic (low nutrient, low productivity) lake will inevitably change intoa eutrophic one. Accelerated eutrophication has occurred as a result of the following:1.Increased use of phosphate-containing detergents2.Increased leaching and run-off from agricultural land3.Drainage or washings from intensive animal units4.Bank erosion caused by the swash of boats5.Increased soil erosion eg. as a result of deforestationWhereas nitrates are very soluble, phosphates are not and so it usually enters the water as a resultof erosion from land. It is, however, a common limiting factor in fresh water and it is usuallythe extra phosphorus which results in the excess growth of plants so characteristic of eutrophication.1.With low levels of nutrient input, plant species diversity and abundance may increase.Faunal diversity may also increase because more plants means more food.2.Microscopic plants (algae) proliferate rapidly causing algal blooms. Although thealgae photosynthesise and therefore release some oxygen into the water, by blanketingthe surface they severely reduce the amount of light which reaches the lower depths andthis reduces the number of larger plants (macrophytes).3.Zooplankton (microscopic fauna) use macrophytes to escape predation by fish so asmacrophyte numbers decrease more zooplankton are eaten so their numbers decrease.4.As zooplankton numbers decrease, less algae are eaten so algal numbers increase further.5.Algae have a high turnover rate (productivity and death rate are both high). Dead algaeare broken down by aerobic bacteria which use up much of the oxygen in the water (highBOD).6.Declining oxygen levels lead to the death of many aerobes (both plants and animals).Many food chains collapse.7.Dead algae and zooplankton increase the turbidity of the water. Detritus forms sediment.
Biology of Freshwater Pollution
6.0Crustaceans and molluscs die5.8Salmon, roach and trout die5.5Whitefish die5.0Perch and pike die4.5Eels die
Table 2: Sensitivities of aquaticorganisms to lowered pH
Figure 2: Formation of Acid Rain
fromvehicles2. NO, NO
emitted as aresult of combustion processespower stations3. drydeposition of acidic particles5. wetdeposition4.sulphur dioxide
sulphurous + sulphuricacid acidnitrogen dioxide
nitrous + nitricacid acid
may be thousands of miles