The effect of episodic acidification on Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) smolt physiology and survival in fresh water (FW) and seawater (SW) was investigated. Smolts were held in either ambient (control, pH 6.0-6.6), acidified (chronic, pH 4.4-6.1), or episodically acidified (episodic, pH reduction from control levels to pH ???5.2 for 48 h once weekly) river water for 31 days and then transferred to 34??? SW. Smolts fed little while in acidified conditions and chronic smolts did not grow in length or weight. In FW, chronic smolts experienced increases in hematocrit and plasma potassium and reductions in plasma sodium and chloride. Upon transfer to SW, chronic and episodic smolts experienced reductions in hematocrit, increases in plasma sodium, chloride, and potassium levels, and suffered mortalities. Gill Na+,K+-ATPase and citrate synthase activities were reduced by exposure to acid. For most parameters, the effect of episodic acid exposure was less than that of chronic acidification. Exposure to acidic conditions, even when short in duration and followed by a 30-h recovery period in suitable water (pH 6.5), led to a 35% mortality of smolts upon transfer to SW. This study highlights the importance of measuring and assessing sublethal stresses in FW and their ultimate effects in marine ecosystems.