USGS Washington Water Science Center
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Nutrients such as nitrogen are essential for plant and animal growth and nourishment, but overabundance can cause adverse effects. Excess amounts of nitrogen from the atmosphere can cause a lake to go through eutrophication, the process in which excess nitrogen triggers a series of events that cause a lake to become fatally low in dissolved oxygen. Alpine lakes are especially sensitive to excess atmospheric nitrogen because of their inability to use up the excess nitrogen and it in soils. Some regions are monitored for deposition of nitrogen at high altitudes, but little is known about deposition in the North Coast and Cascades Network (NCCN) parks of the National Park Service.
To determine if alpine lakes within the NCCN are receiving enough atmospheric nitrogen to cause adverse effects and to identify the critical load that would cause such a change, the USGS is conducting a broad-scale sampling of 15 alpine lakes in NCCN parks and measuring the amounts of atmospheric nitrogen being deposited in the lakes. The collected data will be compared with previously collected low-elevation data.