Susceptibility of Forests in the Northeastern USA to Nitrogen and Sulfur Deposition: Critical Load Exceedance and Forest Health
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The objectives of this study were to assess susceptibility to acidification and nitrogen (N) saturation caused by atmospheric deposition to northeastern US forests, evaluate the benefits and shortcomings of making critical load assessments using regional data, and assess the relationship between expected risk (exceedance) and forest health. We calculated the critical loads of nutrient N and of sulfur (S) + N using the steady-state mass balance method at >4,000 regional and national vegetation and soil monitoring network plots in the northeastern USA. Regional calculations of critical loads necessitate use of soil maps which provide a range for each soil characteristic resulting in a broad range of critical load of S + N and exceedance values. For the scenario most representative of regional conditions, over 80 % of the critical loads fell into the range of 850–2050 eq ha−1 yr−1; at 45 % of the plots, deposition exceeded the critical load. In contrast, the critical load for nutrient N, 200–300 eq ha−1 yr−1, was lower. Site measurements, especially to estimate soil weathering, would increase the certainty of the critical load. We observed significant negative correlations between critical load exceedance and growth (17 species) and crown density (4 species); we observed significant positive correlations of exceedance with declining vigor (four species), with crown dieback (six species) and crown transparency (seven species). Among the species which demonstrate the most significant detrimental responses to atmospheric deposition are balsam fir, red spruce, quaking aspen, and paper birch. These results indicate that significant detrimental responses to atmospheric deposition are being observed across the northeastern USA.
KeywordsAcidification Base cation depletion Forest health N saturation Simple mass balance model
This project was completed with assistance in assembling data from: Charlie Cogbill; Thomas Frieswyk, USDA Forest Service; Phil Girton, Vermont Monitoring Cooperative; Eric Miller, Ecosystems Research Group, Ltd.; Rock Ouimet, Forestry Québec; Judy Rosovsky, Vermont Monitoring Cooperative; and Sandy Wilmot, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Edmund M. Hart and Bethany Zinni of the USDA Forest Service assisted with data manipulation. We thank Jennifer Phelan and Sandy Wilmot for their reviews of an earlier version of this paper. We appreciate the comments of two anonymous reviewers. We are especially indebted to Liz LaPoint, GIS specialist in the USDA Forest Service FIA Program, for her extensive assistance in making these calculations.
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
Joint Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Air Resources Division
Northeastern States for Coordinated Air Use Management
Northern States Research Cooperative
US Environmental Protection Agency
USDA, Forest Health Monitoring Program, Evaluation Monitoring
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
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