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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Controls Over Base Cation Concentrations in Stream and River Waters

Lucas, Richard; Sponseller, Ryan; Laudon, Hjalmar


Significant concern has emerged over the past decades regarding decreases in available base cations (that is, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium) in forest soils and surface waters. Base cations (BCs) are important for buffering against changes in soil and water acidity, and their concentrations can be indicative of environmental management problems such as those linked to acid deposition and land use. Climate variability is also a potentially large factor influencing the dynamics of BCs in soils and surface waters, but our understanding of these interactions at broad scales remains elusive. We used a hierarchical Bayesian model to evaluate the long-term (1990-2010) patterns and drivers of BC concentrations for 60 stream and river monitoring stations across Sweden. Results indicated that the long-term trends in concentration, and the associated environmental drivers, differed among individual BCs and geographical regions. For example, we found that concentrations of Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, and Na+ have decreased in southern Sweden since 1990 and that this is strongly related to concurrent declines in sulfate (SO4 (2-)) over the same period of record. In contrast, concentrations of Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, and Na+ in northern Sweden did not exhibit significant directional trends, despite declines in SO4 (2-), nitrate (NO3 (-)), and chloride (Cl-) over the same period. Instead, BC dynamics in the north are characterized by inter-annual variability that is most closely linked to climate variables. Results suggest that the interaction between climatic variability and historical acid deposition determines the regional pattern and long-term trends of BC concentrations across streams and rivers of Sweden. Understanding the strength of the interaction between climate features and historic deposition will greatly improve our ability to predict long-term trends of Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, and Na+ and their inter-annual dynamics in the future.


hierarchical Bayesian model; calcium; magnesium; potassium; Sweden; acid deposition; recovery; stream water chemistry

Published in

2013, Volume: 16, number: 5, pages: 707-721
Publisher: SPRINGER