Time and again, the remoteness of a water body has done little to protect it from the reach of human activities. Things like mercury deposition rates and rising water temperatures proceed unflinchingly as proof that even a secluded lake can be impacted by things that occur thousands of miles away.
A fresh example of this repeating find involves high mountain lakes in the Utah wilderness. These water bodies, though arguably some of the most remote you can find, are still feeling the impacts of human actions. Their big issue is with nitrate concentrations, something most typically associated with fertilizer applications on fields used to grow crops.
Led by scientists at the University of Western Ontario, researchers involved in the work used isotopic analysis to identify where nitrates found in the lakes had come from. This approach works a bit like fingerprinting, as scientists can use it to identify if specific portions came from sources like fertilizer application or the burning of fossil fuels.
The results were quite clear: Most of the nitrates found in Utah’s high mountain lakes came from human sources, a full 70 percent. Of those, researchers found that 60 percent originated from fertilizers while the remaining 10 percent were linked to fossil fuels.
The findings mean that nitrates can be picked up and moved from one area to another without much difficulty. Gases wafting off of farmlands can transport them, as can dust particles that carry them along as passengers. Distance isn’t much of a factor, as lakes under study were about 100 miles from the nearest urban area, Salt Lake City.
After making it to the remote lakes, scientists say that nitrates can affect their biodiversity as well as water quality. These effects have implications for nearby wildlife, the food chains they make up and may also hint at similar conditions in other mountain lake systems of the U.S.
How big is the problem of nitrate deposition? Is it still possible to solve it? Please consider leaving a comment to share your thoughts!