How Does Eutrophication Affect pH?

Unchecked algae growth can make an environment inhospitable for other life.
••• Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

Pollution disrupts an ecosystem most obviously when toxic chemicals kill plants and wildlife. However, even when a polluting chemical encourages growth, it can have a destructive effect on the delicate balance of an ecosystem. Some types of nutrient-rich pollution cause a swift increase in plant and algae growth; this is known as eutrophication. The resulting changes in pH and oxygen content can have a devastating effect on biodiversity.

What Is Eutrophication?

In a eutrophication cycle, a body of water receives an influx of natural or man-made chemical nutrients. These nutrients encourage rapid growth, particularly for simple algae and plant life that crowd the water surface. The photosynthesizing organisms outpace other animals and plants, dominating the ecosystem.

The excess of simple plant life alters the chemical makeup of the ecosystem, killing animals and plants that cannot adapt to quickly changing conditions while encouraging population booms in a few plants and animals. As a result, the total number of different species living in the environment decreases, eliminating biodiversity and making the system less ecologically robust.

Conditions for Eutrophication

Eutrophication begins when inorganic nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, flow into a body of water. These chemicals can come from natural sources such as periodic flooding cycles in grasslands. However, most rapid rises in inorganic chemicals stem from human interference, including run-off from lawns or fertilizer manufacturers. The introduction of nitric and phosphoric acids make the environment a temporarily acidic nutrient haven for plant life.

Algal Blooms and pH

The simplest, fastest-moving organisms take advantage of this nutrient delivery most effectively. Photosynthesizing algae cover the lake or pond surface, competing for light. The chemical byproducts of this photosynthesis process increase the pH of the water, making it more basic. Delicate organisms that cannot survive under these chemical conditions will die, while hardier animals that feed on algae will experience population growth.

Organic Matter and pH

As time passes, the inorganic nutrients are depleted and the algae begin to die. The dying algae drop to the bottom of the lake and decompose. Bacteria, which decompose this organic matter, leach oxygen from the water and produce acidic byproducts. Bottom-feeding animals that cannot handle the low oxygen content and low pH die, decreasing the biodiversity of the environment.

Related Articles

Water pH & Pollution
Define Chemical Pollution
Examples of Secondary Pollutants
Human Impacts on Freshwater Ecosystems
What Are the Effects of Leaching?
How Does Water Pollution Affect Fish?
What Is the Effect of PH on Living Organisms?
The Effects of Mining on the Ecosystem
Timber Industry Effect on Water Pollution
What Are the Causes of the Destruction of Ecosystem?
Factors Affecting Marine Life
How Can the Use of Fertilizers Result in Reduced O2...
Cambodia's Environmental Problems
What Region of the United States Is Most Affected by...
The Effects of Soil Pollution on Plants & Flora
Harmful Effects of Algae
How Does Sediment Affect Ecosystems?
Waterborne Pollutants
How Does Pollution Affect Photosynthesis?

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!