The Effect of PH in River Water

Aerial view of river
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Unlike lakes and ponds, rivers are open systems, where frequent water exchange occurs. Despite this fact, the organisms that depend on rivers require some equilibrium. Various indicators give a measure of the quality of a river. These measurement include dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH, which is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration.

Definition

Scientist testing pH levels in a pond
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The scale for measuring pH goes from 0 to 14 with 7 or under representing an acidic environment, and a reading over 7 indicates an alkaline environment.

Sources of Acidity

Raindrops on river
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A study published in the journal Nature directly linked acidity in Norwegian rivers and lakes to acid rain, which decimated local salmon and trout populations.

Effects of Low pH

Fish swimming upstream
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Low pH levels cause fish kill by stressing animal systems and causing physical damage, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to disease.

Buffering Capacity

Limestone wall
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The effects of low pH levels can be lessened by the presence of limestone along river banks and in soil.

Factors Influencing pH

Truck exits mine
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Other external factors that can cause fluctuations in the river pH include agricultural runoff, acidic mine drainage (AWD), and fossil fuel emissions such as carbon dioxide, which creates a weak acid when dissolved in river water.

Benefits of Testing pH

Rocks underneath a river
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Testing pH levels indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a sample. Rivers have some capacity to prevent changes in pH by the structure and composition of the river bed. However, drastic changes in pH can have detrimental effects on river health.

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