Atmospheric Deposition

Atmospheric deposition implies the input of dust, metals, acids, nutrients, and pollutants into terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Much attention has been given to the deposition of sulfur and nitrogen compounds released to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels and a wide range of other industrial activities. These compounds affect lake waters to a large extent, since nitrogen is an important nutrient and sulfur can lead to acid conditions. Sulfur concentrations in lake waters began to increase after the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, leading to acidified waters, especially in the northern parts of Europe where soils have a low pH buffering capacity, and lake waters became increasingly acidified. The consequences of a very low pH were far-reaching for the chemistry and the biology of the lakes, the leaching of aluminum being one example. To reduce the damaging effects of acid deposition on lake ecosystems, intensive liming activities were initiated in the northern part of Europe. In parallel, strong measures were taken to reduce the emission rates across Europe. In the 1990s, effects were seen and since then the deposition of sulfur and nitrogen compounds are decreasing in most regions of Europe.

The lakes of Europe have also been largely affected by the deposition of radioactive substances after the major accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986. Radioactive 137Cs accumulated in soils, sediments, and flora and fauna. Especially fish showed high 137Cs concentrations, making the consumption in some northern European regions impossible. 137Cs can still be detected in lake ecosystems, mainly in lake sediments. Here the 137Cs signal is often used to determine sediment accumulation rates.

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