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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Assessment of Acidity of Lakes and Precipitation in the Sierra Nevada


The east central Sierra Nevada received acid precipitation (pH 3.7 to 4.9) during convective storms interspersed through the dry seasons of 1981 and 1982. In contrast, late autumn, winter and early spring snow (1981-1982) range in pH from 5.2 to 6.1 (mean 5.7) and had low ammonium, nitrate and sulfate concentrations. As of 1981 most of the alpine lakes of the Sierra Nevada remain very weakly buffered, bicarbonate lakes that receive a small load of acid precipitation and large annual input of snowmelt uncontaminated by strong acids. These lakes contain low concentrations of orthophosphate, nitrate and ammonium and are oligotrophic. The zooplankton communities fall into two major groups, those dominated by large-bodied species in the absence of fish, and those dominated by smaller species where fish are present. If the acidity of the precipitation increases[,] the pH of the lakes will decrease rapidly with adverse biological impacts because the lakes and their basins have extremely low buffer capacity and the biota cannot tolerate acidic water.

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