Almost 50 scientists who work in the Adirondacks gathered March 6 and 7 in Old Forge to present results of research and monitoring activities in the region during the 16th Annual Adirondack Research Forum. Below is a quick summary of their reports and findings.
Readers will note that the names of a few private waterbodies where specific research is being conducted were redacted. This was done for privacy purposes and to protect the fisheries. Each of the research and monitoring projects fits into the state’s plan to protect itself from acid rain and climate change by proving what damage has already occurred. Some of the projects also seek to find ways to accelerate the park’s recovery from all air pollution-related damage.
In Old Forge, scientists discussed how acid rain, air pollution (CO2 emissions), mercury and mobilization and release of inorganic aluminum from the geology (bedrock) because of acid rain, and other mitigation activities (e.g., liming) within watersheds are impacting the Adirondacks. Data was shared that suggests that further reductions in these pollutants are necessary for additional recovery of Adirondack waters and brook trout populations (and other native fishes and aquatic invertebrates) especially with changes apparently related to climate change such as changes in flows.
Several speakers in the audience suggested that legislation in Washington DC will be necessary for additional pollution reduction and chemical and fishery recovery. It has been noted how relatively inexpensive pollution reduction actions to date have generated significant public health, economic and environmental benefits. The need for funding to support ongoing environmental research and monitoring was noted. Forum co-organizer Dan Josephson from Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources Adirondack Fishery Research Program was thanked for his years of service, by co-organizers Barry Baldigo (US Geological Survey), Cliff Kraft (Cornell) and participants.
1. Declining aluminum toxicity and the role of exposure duration on brook trout survival in acidified Adirondack Mountain Streams 1984-2017; Barry Baldigo, USGS-NYWSC
- Acid deposition has been reduced significantly since the 1990s and lake chemistry has been improving, which suggests that chemical and biological recovery is also occurring in local streams. Inorganic aluminum (Ali), mobilized in soils by acid rain, is toxic to many fish species. The levels of Ali in one well-studied stream (Buck Creek) have declined “significantly” over the past three decades, but concentrations have leveled out over the last ten years and are still at levels toxic to juvenile (young-of-year) brook trout. Baldigo presented chemistry and toxicity data from 1984-2017. Results from toxicity tests using juvenile brook trout exposed to waters of six streams during 2015-17 and 2001-03 were used to generate preliminary probabilistic models which predict, for example, that waters in Buck Creek still exceed 4 micromol Ali/L for 2-3 weeks each year and that these levels can cause 70-to-90 percent mortality of resident brook trout. The duration of highly toxic Ali conditions during 2015-2017 were much shorter than they were during 2001-03, but the duration of moderately toxic Ali levels did not decrease between 2001-03 and 2015-17. In conclusion, “waters were toxic to brook trout for long periods at Buck and other streams in 2015-17” but that we are “moving in the right direction” (toward recovery).
2. How Soil Carbon is affecting aluminum trends in Adirondack Streams; Greg Lawrence, USGS-NYWSC
- Although decreasing dramatically since the early 1990s, inorganic aluminum levels have been mostly level for the last 10 years. Concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and “strongly acidic organic anions” in stream waters, however, have increased and calcium concentrations have decreased in responses to decreasing rates of acidic deposition. Acid Rain is “still mobilizing inorganic aluminum at harmful levels, lower levels than before, but still harmful.” “We saw things getting better and now things are flattening out.” While acidification has declined it’s still above the threshold for Ali mobilization due to increases in the strongly acidic organic anions and decreases in calcium concentrations that now strongly influence acidity and Ali concentrations in streams of the region. In summary, the “decrease in ionic strength PLUS prior calcium depletion provides a feedback mechanism that is slowing recovery by mobilizing DOC.” Charley Driscoll added that “we exhausted calcium stocks so a small amount of acid rain has more impact than before.”
3. Spatial patterns and temporal trends in atmospheric deposition, surface water and fish mercury in the Adirondack region of New York; Charles Driscoll, Syracuse University
- Mercury (Hg) emission decreases have been a “remarkable” 82 percent reduction. The national AMNeT (National Mercury Atmospheric Monitoring Network) shows that regional decreases are consistent with emission decreases. “Coal combustion is the largest source of Hg emissions in the U.S. about 48 percent.” “It’s moving in a positive direction and I hope we keep moving in a positive direction” because “Mercury is a contaminant like lead and there is no safe level.” Currently we have health advisories. “Going forward, if we’re going to be serious, we need an ongoing program of research and monitoring.” Conclusions for the entire Adirondacks: “Water Column Hg is related to dissolved organic carbon, pH and acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC), and yellow perch mercury is affected by pH/ANC; Most lakes are showing decreases in total Hg and (organic) Hg in lake water; Lakes show decreases in Hg concentrations in yellow perch.”
4. Effects of aerial and in-stream lime applications on rates of microbial respiration, leaf decomposition and macroinvertebrate community dynamics in tributary streams to X Lake; Randy Fuller, Colgate University.
- “Rates of microbial respiration and leaf decomposition are lowest in chronically acid streams and higher in episodically acid and neutral streams. The aerial limed stream “is showing signs of both higher rates of microbial respiration and leaf decomposition…” “We have yet to see any shift in macroinvertebrate species composition in streams that had lime directly applied to stream channels…., but shifts appear to be occurring in….the aerially limed stream.”
5. Evidence for a DOC mediated trophic shift in X Lake? Benjamin Marcy-Quay, Cornell University
- “X Lake is a posterchild for acidification and recovery.”
- Less transparency and UV penetration to deeper depths may be favoring survival of Chaoborus (phantom midge larve) – possibly contributing to an observed trophic shift by brook trout to a higher level in the food chain
6. Adirondack brook trout and acid rain: Environmental Legislation fosters successful restoration; Cliff Kraft, Cornell University
- The very early fishery management was agriculture. The book Acid Rain in the Adirondacks by Jerry Jenkins et al is a key reference. We have a very positive story to tell in the Adirondacks. Science, since the 1930s, informed legislation in faraway places that helped. It’s key that very complicated science be communicated so it’s understandable for the lay person. In conclusion, from Cliff Kraft:
- Broad environmental understanding (is) required to guide fishery recovery insights from atmospheric sciences, geology, and limnology reflect movement toward ecosystem management
- Insights from atmospheric sciences, geology, and limnology reflect movement toward ecosystem management
- Social and political decisions made far from the Adirondacks helped rehabilitate Adirondack fisheries
- Fishery management often requires political support, regulatory action, and media attention – as well as an expansive scientific understanding
- As favorable environmental conditions are restored, natural recovery processes can successfully rehabilitate a fishery.
7. How have streamflow patterns changed across New York over the past 55 years? Doug Burns, USGS-NYWSC
- Streamflow patterns across New York are “generally increasing” across New York State, overall about 1% / year. The increases are greatest in the Catskills, and Long Island is the only region with a decrease. More streamflow is occurring earlier in the year, and seems to be driven by greater January rainfall. There is “warming throughout NY State – most persistent in the summer,” and “increasing frequency of high flows” (not that intensity was increasing).
- “The response of streamflow to long-term climate change is complex, difficult to confirm that expected climate change patterns have yet been realized.”
8. Will browning lead to greening? Understanding the stoichiometry of dissolved organic matter in Adirondack lakes; Jonathan Stetler, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Dr. Kevin Rose, RPI.
- “Dissolved organic matter is increasing throughout the northeast.” We’re seeing “a browning” occur “due to recovery from acidification and changes in climate.” This will likely impact Adirondack lakes by decreasing transparency and altering thermal structure (shallower thermoclines).
9. Assessment of historical and current lake fish communities at Huntington Wildlife Forest – indicators of climate change? Margaret Murphy, Integrated Aquatic Sciences
- This was an assessment of fish community health in the five major lakes in the 15,000 acre SUNY-ESF Huntington Wildlife Forest. Fisheries in all, even the most remote “wild” lake, “are changing significantly.” “Something is happening we’re not sure what.”
- Across the Adirondacks lakes thought to have traditionally had lake trout total 174 but today we think that perhaps 100 of those still have lake trout.
- Conclusions: There is a “need for constant monitoring.” “Physical and chemical data (e.g. water quality) are important to collect when assessing fish assemblages to better understand changes. Building “collaborations for better integration of watershed data sets.” And “continue assessments of historical data…”
10. Utilizing citizen science to identify, map and monitor wild brook trout genetic structure in the Adirondack Park; Keith Tidball, Cornell University/Trout Power, Spencer Bruce, SUNY Albany – Conclusions:
- “The majority of Brook Trout samples by citizen scientists through Trout Power retain genetic structure consistent with native watershed geography…”
- “By adding to the increasing body of work elucidating Brook Trout genetic diversity across New York State, the work of Trout Power citizen scientists (and others) suggest that native Brook Trout ancestry in many wild Adirondack waters is likely not an exception, but the norm, leading to a broader discussion about the role of supplemental stocking, and the adaptive potential of this species.”
Many thanked and recognized fellow contributors, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation and others for funding; and the Adirondack Long Term Monitoring program (Adirondack Lake Survey Corporation) and others for data.