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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Impact of whole-tree harvest on soil and stream water acidity in southern Sweden based on HD-MINTEQ simulations and pH-sensitivity

Lofgren, Stefan; Agren, Anneli; Gustafsson, Jon Petter; Olsson, Bengt A.; Zetterberg, Therese


The shift in major drivers of acidification from sulfur deposition to biological acidification has put the focus on the impact of biomass harvest for bioenergy on the acid base status of forests soils and surface waters. This paper presents a model-based assessment in which the impact of whole-tree harvest (WTH) is compared with that of no harvest at two different sulfur deposition levels by use of the HD-MINTEQ model. Additionally, the pH-sensitivity of 179 randomly selected boreal headwater streams was assessed. The results indicate that the exchangeable Ca2+ pool in humus and mineral soils (<= B-horizon) is most affected by harvest. Concerning the pH, the WTH impact is restricted to shallow soils and for a much shorter period of time. The impact of WTH on the soil solution was primarily restricted to the recharge area and much less pronounced in the discharge area. Due to high buffering capacity of riparian soils and low pH-sensitivity of many headwater streams, the pH effects of WTH on surface waters will most probably be small, at least over a rotation period of several decades. Over time perspectives of multiple rotations, the pH effects are more uncertain due to a possible slow successive protonation of organic matter in the riparian zone. Another important aspect is the currently restricted availability of mobile anion charge balancing the acidity produced by tree growth. Therefore, the acidity is to a large extent arrested in the soil. At the current low S deposition levels, southwestern Sweden seems to be the least vulnerable region to further acid input due to high buffer capacity at low pH. The streams in central and northern Sweden are much more pH-sensitive, but restricted availability of mobile strong acid anions and large buffer capacity in the soils make them less vulnerable to WTH. The partly diverging results between experimental and model studies indicate that one or more processes (hydrological, chemical or biological) are not fully understood or that available data are lacking for a proper parameterization. Thus, the results from long-term WTH experiments are very important for understanding the processes involved as well as for improving and validating model predictions. We therefore encourage societal support of maintaining monitoring and research coupled to such experiments. For the future and for improving our current understanding of biogeochemical dynamics in forest ecosystems subjected to active forestry as well as for policy and management purposes, a mixture of experiments and models ought to be used. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Biological acidification; Biomass harvest; Bioenergy; Forest soil; Soil water; Headwater stream

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2017, Volume: 383, pages: 49-60