A. Shaw, Chancellor
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Syracuse University Magazine (USPS 009-049, ISSN 1065-884X)
Volume 19, Number 2, is an official bulletin of Syracuse University
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many anglers, I love hiking along remote streams in search of brook
trout. It’s never easy slogging through brush and trudging over
rocks while following the meandering path of running water, but
it’s often essential if I want to connect with a feisty brookie.
For me, the experience counts among life’s simple pleasures.
Brook trout are beautiful creatures, but understandably wary in
their instinctive struggle for survival. In the Adirondacks—as well
as other regions of the country, but particularly in the Northeast—they
face the additional challenge of enduring the insidious effects
of acid rain. First documented in the early ’60s, acid deposition—as
this scourge is more accurately called—remains a major plague of
industrialized society. Our growing demand for energy leads to the
release of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere by electric utilities.
As we transport ourselves here, there, and yonder, our vehicles
discharge nitrogen oxides. Even modern agriculture contributes to
the problem by emitting ammonia. Once aloft, these chemical compounds
react with water, oxygen, and oxidants in the atmosphere and create
sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and ammonium, which ride the winds until
they’re returned to Earth through precipitation, clouds, fog, vapor,
gases, and particles.
That is when the havoc begins. Not only does acid deposition drop
pH levels in bodies of water to create inhospitable conditions for
aquatic life, but it also depletes the soil of such elements as
calcium and magnesium, which can help neutralize acidity levels.
In addition, it enhances the movement of inorganic aluminum from
bedrock and soil to ponds, lakes, and streams. Here is the endgame
for the brook trout, though it actually has a high tolerance level
for acidity compared to many other species: “High acidity and aluminum
levels disrupt the salt and water balance in fish, causing red blood
cells to rupture and blood viscosity to increase,” reads the publication
Acid Rain Revisited Studies show that the viscous blood strains
the fish’s heart, resulting in a lethal heart attack.
Acid Rain Revisited, issued by the Hubbard Brook Research
Foundation in New Hampshire, reports how acid deposition continues
to distress ecosystems in the Northeast, despite reductions in fossil-fuel
emissions mandated by the 1970 and 1990 Clean Air acts. If you’re
interested, I recommend you take a look at Acid Rain Revisited (www.hubbardbrook.org/hbfound/hbfound.htm).
The report shows that acid deposition is an incredibly complex issue
that reflects the interconnectedness of our environment and the
consequences of our actions.
The report’s project leader is Syracuse University professor Charles
T. Driscoll, one of the world’s leading authorities on acid
deposition. In this issue, associate editor Christine Yackel profiles
Driscoll and writes about his involvement in acid-deposition research.
While it is sobering to learn how devastating the effects of acid
deposition have been on the environment, it is encouraging to know
that scientists like Driscoll continue to develop a greater understanding
of the issue, providing lawmakers with solid research that can help
combat the problem. We, after all, should not ignore warning signs
that point to the destruction of our natural resources. If we do,
there will be more to worry about than locating brook trout in a
secluded Adirondack stream.