Response of lake chemistry to changes in atmospheric deposition and climate in three high-elevation wilderness areas of Colorado

  • Mast M
  • Turk J
  • Clow D
 et al. 
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Trends in precipitation chemistry and hydrologic and climatic data were examined as drivers of long-term changes in the chemical composition of high-elevation lakes in three wilderness areas in Colorado during 1985-2008. Sulfate concentrations in precipitation decreased at a rate of -0.15 to -0.55 mu eq/l/year at 10 high-elevation National Atmospheric Deposition Program stations in the state during 1987-2008 reflecting regional reductions in SO2 emissions. In lakes where sulfate is primarily derived from atmospheric inputs, sulfate concentrations also decreased although the rates generally were less, ranging from -0.12 to -0.27 mu eq/l/year. The similarity in timing and sulfur isotopic data support the hypothesis that decreases in atmospheric deposition are driving the response of high-elevation lakes in some areas of the state. By contrast, in lakes where sulfate is derived primarily from watershed weathering sources, sulfate concentrations showed sharp increases during 1985-2008. Analysis of long-term climate records indicates that annual air temperatures have increased between 0.45 and 0.93A degrees C per decade throughout most mountainous areas of Colorado, suggesting climate as a factor. Isotopic data reveal that sulfate in these lakes is largely derived from pyrite, which may indicate climate warming is preferentially affecting the rate of pyrite weathering.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Alpine
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Climate
  • Lake
  • Trends
  • Water chemistry
  • Weathering

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  • M. Alisa Mast

  • John T. Turk

  • David W. Clow

  • Donald H. Campbell

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