Research Project Summary Information
Effects of acid rain on the ecological health of Long Island's forests and ponds in the Central Pine Barrens and the Mashomack Preserve.(28431)
USGS National Center MS270
Air emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in electrical power plants are the major source of mercury (Hg) and gaseous sulfur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx) oxides in the atmosphere. These oxides dissolve in atmospheric moisture, forming ions which are deposited by rain and snowfall as "acidic deposition." Acidic deposition releases soluble aluminum from the soil, which can reach toxic concentrations in adjacent water bodies, and also removes important nutrients from the soil. Mercury and its toxic organic form methylmercury (MeHg) present a significant stressor to wildlife populations.
Atmospheric deposition of acids nutrients and Hg may be altering the chemical makeup of Long Island’s Central Pine Barrens, in New York State. Environments most impacted by the effects of acidic deposition are those that receive high deposition loads of SOx and NOx and which have poorly buffered soils, such as the Pine Barrens. Mercury is transformed to MeHg most efficiently in acidic environments that receive high deposition loadings and experience frequent saturation and drying cycles. All of these conditions exist in the Pine Barrens and conspire to make this unique region especially vulnerable to these pollutants.
Mercury and acidification surveys of the Long Island Pine Barrens will be undertaken by the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy.
The acidification survey will be conducted by the USGS and include the collection and analysis of water from coastal plain ponds in the Central Pine Barrens, as well as soils and soil pore water in the surrounding forests. This region was selected because it has the most acidic, low-nutrient waters of all Long Island wetlands and it also supports the highest biological diversity.
The mercury survey will be conducted by BRI and will assess Hg exposure by sampling blood and feathers from invertivorous songbirds breeding at the same sites being evaluated for acidification. In addition to bird sampling, preferred invertebrate prey items likely to be eaten by these birds will also be collected and analyzed for mercury, and stable isotopic ratio’s of carbon and nitrogen. Chemical samples will be used to determine the extent and potential impacts of acidification. The biotic data will be used together with the water chemistry data to help explain Hg concentrations in biota and determine if acid deposition is driving MeHg bio-availability in these areas.
To date, most of the research addressing acidification and mercury contamination in New York has focused on the Catskill and Adirondack Parks. This project will contribute to the understanding of the broader spatial extent of acidification and Hg contamination in other sensitive regions of New York.
USGS National Center MS270
P.O. Box 71362 Department of Interior
Philadelphia, PA 28272
Environmental Monitoring & Research
NYSERDA Contact Information
R&D - Environment & Energy Res