Understanding How Acid Rain Affects Soil and Trees
Trees exposed to acid rain may have unusually severe reactions to environmental stresses. Acid rain is defined as precipitation that’s unusually acidic as a result of pollution in the atmosphere. This pollution, which often contains sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides, can change soil chemistry by dissolving calcium and other nutrients and releasing aluminum, which makes it harder for trees to absorb water. Calcium can affect how trees’ cells respond to environmental stress and reduced soil calcium levels may increase the likelihood of aluminum poisoning.
Northern Research Station scientists are finding out how calcium, nitrogen and aluminum affect microbial diversity, soil quality, photosynthesis, overall forest health, and tree responses to environmental stressors. We are also conducting tests to see if trees like paper birch are affected by acid rain, which has been connected to red spruce and sugar maple deaths. At the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire and Harvard Forest in Massachusetts, scientists are evaluating how red spruce and other tree species are responding to calcium applications across entire watersheds that have been exposed to acid rain over many years. More recent research involves computer modeling to help locate areas with high levels of acid rain.
By helping scientists understand how calcium depletion and other soil chemistry changes affect different kinds of trees, this research will help land managers maintain and improve forest health in areas that have been exposed to acid rain.
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Halman, J.M.; Schaberg, P.G.; Hawley, G.J.; Pardo, L.H.; Fahey, T.J. 2013. Calcium and aluminum impacts on sugar maple physiology in a northern hardwood forest. Tree Physiology 33:1242-1251.
Boyce, R.L.; Schaberg, P.G.; Hawley, G.J.; Halman, J.M.; Murakami, P.F. 2013. Effects of soil calcium and aluminum on the physiology of balsam fir and red spruce saplings in northern New England. Trees 27:1657-1667.
Kosiba, A.M.; Schaberg, P.G.; Hawley, G.J.; Hansen, C.F. 2013. Quantifying the legacy of foliar winter injury on woody aboveground carbon sequestration of red spruce trees. Forest Ecology and Management 302:363-371.
Comerford, Daniel P.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Templer, Pamela H.; Socci, Anne M.; Campbell, John L.; Wallin, Kimberly F. 2013. Influence of experimental snow removal on root and canopy physiology of sugar maple trees in a northern hardwood forest. Oecologia. 171: 261-269.
Green, Mark B.; Bailey, Amey S.; Bailey, Scott W.; Battles, John J.; Campbell, John L.; Driscoll, Charles T.; Fahey, Timothy J.; Lepine, Lucie C.; Likens, Gene E.; Ollinger, Scott V.; Schaberg, Paul G. 2013. Decreased water flowing from a forest amended with calcium silicate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 110(15): 5999-6003.
Schaberg, Paul G.; Minocha, Rakesh; Long, Stephanie; Halman, Joshua M.; Hawley, Gary J.; Eagar, Christopher. 2011. Calcium addition at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest increases the capacity for stress tolerance and carbon capture in red spruce (Picea rubens) trees during the cold season. Trees. 25: 1053-1061.
Halman, Joshua M.; Schaberg, Paul G.; Hawley, Gary J.; Hansen, Christopher F. 2011. Potential role of soil calcium in recovery of paper birch following ice storm injury in Vermont, USA. Forest Ecology and Management. 261: 1539-1545.
- Paul Schaberg, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station, Research Plant Physiologist
- Paula Murakami, USDA-Forest Service – Northern Research Station, Biological Sciences Technician
- Shelly Rayback, The University of Vermont, Associate Professor of Geography
- Gary Hawley, The University of Vermont, Senior Researcher
- Jennifer Pontius, The University of Vermont, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science
- Christopher Hansen, The University of Vermont, Forestry Technician
- Alexandra Kosiba, The University of Vermont, Forestry Lecturer and Research Specialist
- Last modified: March 19, 2019