, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 51–81

Acidic deposition, nutrient leaching and forest growth

  • George H. Tomlinson

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026069927380

Cite this article as:
Tomlinson, G.H. Biogeochemistry (2003) 65: 51. doi:10.1023/A:1026069927380


Studies in Germany and confirmed in North America established that the forest decline that developed in the late 1970's and 80's resulted from a deficiency in one or more of the nutrient cations: Ca2+, Mg2+, and K+. These nutrients are essential to the structure of the foliage, to photosynthesis and to the growth of the trees. The reactions and mechanisms involved in the entry of nutrients to the soil, their storage, and rate of transfer to the soil solution, and through it, to the fine roots and to the leaves at the top of the tree are reviewed. The continuing material balance studies carried out on a watershed at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire allow a unique analysis of the changes caused in these nutrient transfers by acid rain. The nutrient cations are stored in the soil by adsorption on negatively charged clay, and the presence of an acid is required for their release to the soil solution. In pre-industrial times this acid was H2CO3, which was subsequently displaced from the soil solution by H2SO4 and HNO3, as a result of acid deposition. The effect of the increased concentration of the negatively charged SO42− and NO3 anions seeping through the soil, compared with that of the HCO3 that had been previously present, resulted in a substantially increased rate of transfer of an equivalent of Ca2+ and other positively charged nutrient cations from the soil to the soil solution. The increased concentration of Ca2+ in the soil solution resulted in both an initial increase in the rate of biomass growth and in a simultaneous increase in the rate of Ca2+ loss in the effluent soil solution from the watershed. It was found that this increased rate of removal of Ca2+ from the watershed soil had become greater than its rate of input to the soil from weathering and from dust and rain. As a result, the large Ca2+ inventory that had built up in the soil as a result of the reduced leaching in the years prior to the entry of acid rain, that started in about the1880's, was eventually depleted in the hardwood forest at Hubbard Brook in the 1980's, about 100 years later. With insufficient Ca2+ available for its continuing transfer, net biomass growth on the watershed stopped. This resulted from the rate of tree mortality becoming equal to that of the small incremental growth of a few trees on the watershed. The future growth of forests is at risk from the long-term effects of acid deposition. The fundamental nature of the reactions involved indicates that similar growth anomalies are occurring in other forests impacted by acid rain. These changes from normal biomass growth can affect the amount of CO2 stored in the biomass, of importance to our understanding of Global Warming.

Acid deposition Biomass growth Calcium Nutrient cations Mineralization Weathering 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • George H. Tomlinson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations