Long term organic carbon dynamics in 17 Swedish lakes : The impact of acid deposition and climate change

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper


During the last three decades, a number of studies based on national environmental monitoring data have found increased concentrations of total organic carbon (TOC) in surface waters in much of the northern hemisphere including Sweden. There are many hypothesis of what has been the main cause of this trend, including changes in land use, decreased atmospheric deposition of acidifying compounds and climate change. Different hypothesis may have different implications for quantifying pre-industrial levels and for future predictions of TOC concentrations, which in turn will have different implications for water classification according to the European Water Framework Directive, water management and drinking water treatment.

To analyse the long term effects of industrialisation and climate change on TOC in surface waters there is a need for long term time series of data. Since environmental monitoring data in Sweden only extends back to the mid-1980s, other techniques must be used in order to reconstruct data. In this study, sediment cores from 17 lakes along a climatic and deposition gradient in Sweden were collected and analysed with visible near infrared spectroscopy (VNIRS), an analytical technique that makes it possible to reconstruct historic surface water concentrations of TOC to pre-industrial conditions. A previous study with VNIRS showed that TOC concentrations declined in response to sulfate deposition until peak sulfur deposition in 1980, and thereafter increased as a result of sharp reductions of sulfate emissions. It was noted that the rate of increase of TOC after 1980 was faster than the rate of decrease due to sulfate deposition before 1980. The purpose of this study was therefore to explore the hypothesis that increasing TOC concentrations have not only been due to recovery from acidification, but also due to changes in climate.

It was possible to analyse the long term effects of industrialisation and climate change on surface water TOC by analysing the reconstructed TOC data together with climate data from the beginning of the 1900s, modelled data of atmospheric sulfate deposition and environmental monitoring data, with uni- and multivariate analysis methods. It was found that the recent increase in TOC concentrations could be explained by both decreases in acidifying atmospheric deposition and increased precipitation, while temperature may have a decreasing effect on TOC. It was also found that the rate of increase of TOC-concentrations has been faster in the colder northern parts of Sweden and slower in the warmer south. The results imply that TOC concentrations will continue to rise to unpreceded levels and should be of concern for drinking water treatment plants that will need to adapt their treatment processes in the future.

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