Drought-induced sulphate release from a wetland in south-central Ontario
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- Eimers, M.C., Watmough, S.A., Buttle, J.M. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2007) 127: 399. doi:10.1007/s10661-006-9289-3
Increased sulphate (SO4) export from wetlands following summer droughts in central Ontario, Canada has been associated with the delayed chemical recovery of downstream surface waters following decreased sulphur (S) emissions. Prolonged summer droughts result in a decrease or cessation of stream flow, declines in wetland water table level and oxidation of reduced S compounds to SO4, which is subsequently flushed into drainage streams when stream flow resumes. Sulphate input-output budget calculations (1983–1995 and 1999–2001) at a conifer Sphagnum swamp in the Plastic Lake catchment, indicate that SO4 is retained in most years but is exported on a net basis following particularly severe summer droughts that result in the cessation of stream flow for more than 54 days (95% CI: 41–72 days). Hindcast calculations using long-term (1916–2000) stream discharge records from a nearby station indicate that while droughts occurred frequently in south-central Ontario over the past 85 years, sufficiently dry conditions to cause net SO4 export occurred in only18 of the past 85 years, and indicate a cumulative positive SO4 balance for the swamp (i.e. net SO4 retention). Furthermore, the S pool at the Plastic Lake swamp has been estimated to be ∼1500 kg S/ha in the upper 40 cm peat layer, which is large compared to the amount of net SO4 export that occurs even in years with particularly dry summers (e.g. −43 kg S/ha in 1987/88). Together, these data suggest that the wetland S pool at Plastic Lake has not been depleted by previous droughts and will continue to sustain episodic drought-related SO4 export for the foreseeable future.