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The acidity of precipitation in the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada has increased in the past, probably as a result of anthropogenic emissions. The increase in New England and New York occurred primarily before the mid-1950's. Since the mid1960's, there has been no significant change in the acidity of precipitation in this region; however, sulfate concentrations have decreased and nitrate concentrations may have increased. The time of initial acidification in Southeastern Canada is not known because of a lack of historical data. In the Southeastern United States, the evaluation of whether precipitation has been acidified is complicated by meager data. The available data show that precipitation is more acidic than would be expected for sites unaffected by anthropogenic emissions. In addition, comparison of recent data with the meager historical data suggests, but does not unambiguously prove, increased acidification since the 1950's. In the Western United States, available data indicate that precipitation at individual sites has been acidified by anthropogenic emissions. The acidification generally has been attributable to localized sources, and the time of initial acidification is undefined.
Acidification of lakes and streams in the Northeastern United States has occurred in a time frame compatible with the hypothesis that acidification of precipitation was the cause. The acidification of surface waters appears to have occurred before the mid- to late 1960's. In Southeastern Canada, the best-documented cases of acidified lakes point to localized sources of acidic emissions as the cause. Sparse evidence of recent regional acidification of lakes and streams exists, but evidence for acidification of precipitation as the cause is largely lacking. In the Southeastern United States, most data on acidification of surface waters are ambiguous, and in the West, most of the data reflect local conditions. However, recent analysis of a national network of remote stream sampling stations indicates that, since the mid- to late 1960's, sulfate concentrations have increased in the Southeast and the West, with a concurrent decrease in alkalinity. Additional work is needed to test the hypothesis that regional acidification of surface waters is occurring in the Southeastern and Western United States.
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USGS Numbered Series
An evaluation of trends in the acidity of precipitation and the related acidification of surface water in North America