Episodic acidification during snowmelt of high elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California
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Atmospheric loads to dilute lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California are very low, and fall almost entirely as snow. When acidic anions preferentially elute from melting snow, these low loads may nontheless be enough to acidify low ANC lakes. Two of the ten lakes included in the Sierra Episodes Study are discussed here: High Lake, the only lake in the study to become acidic during snowmelt; and Treasure Lake, typical of the remainder of the lakes. All lakes exhibited increases in NO3− concentrations during early snowmelt; these were accompanied by increases in base cations, primarily Ca2+. In the first few days of snowmelt, NO3− concentrations at High Lake increased more rapidly than concentrations of base cations, resulting in ANC values below zero. Export of both NO3− and SO42− from the watersheds exceeded the inputs from the snowpack, suggesting that other sources (e.g., watershed minerals, stored inputs from the previous summer, transformations of other inputs) of these anions are important.
KeywordsSierra Nevada alpine lakes episodic acidification nitrate sulfate
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