Colorado mountains recover from emissions-driven ‘acid rain’

A high Alpine area of the Rocky Mountains is slowly recovering from increased acidity caused by vehicle emissions. The ecological improvement is a long-term trend, say researchers.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have found that Niwot Ridge – a high alpine area of the Rocky Mountains, east of the Continental Divide – is slowly recovering from increased acidity caused by vehicle emissions in Colorado’s Front Range.

Their results show that nitric and sulfuric acid levels in the Green Lakes Valley region of Niwot Ridge have generally decreased over the past 30 years, especially since the mid-2000s, explains a statement.

This is good news for the wildlife and wildflowers of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north of Niwot Ridge, which depend on limited levels of acidity in the water and soil to thrive. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are also the source of a lot of water for people living in the Mountain West, and the integrity of these ecosystems influences both the quantity and the quality of this water.

“It looks like we’re doing the right thing. By controlling vehicle emissions, some of these really special places that make Colorado unique are going back to what they used to be,” said Jason Neff, co-author on the paper.

Niwot Ridge is one of 28 Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network sites in the U.S., funded by the National Science Foundation. Its 4 square miles stretch from the Continental Divide down to the subalpine forest, 25 miles northwest of Boulder.

Photo credit: Vicky Hamilton / Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.O

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