The sensitivity of Afromontane tarns in the Maloti-Drakensberg region of South Africa and Lesotho to acidic deposition
Despite their remoteness from sources of atmospheric pollutant emissions, the Afromontane tarns in the Maloti- Drakensberg region are perfect candidates to study the negative effects of acidifying atmospheric pollution, because mountain lakes are widely recognised as sentinel ecosystems, unimpacted by direct human disturbance within their catchments. Thirty-four tarns were sampled in the Maloti-Drakensberg region and most were found to be extremely sensitive to acidic deposition, as indicated by their low acid neutralising capacity. There are very few studies of freshwater critical loads for any region within South Africa. The steady-state water chemistry model (SSWC) was adapted and used to determine critical loads, whereas exceedance was estimated relative to modelled regional deposition data, in order to understand the risk of harmful effects to aquatic ecosystems. Seventy-six percent of sampled sites across the Maloti-Drakensberg would exceed critical loads even at the lowest modelled deposition levels, but there are no current measured deposition data for the region. The sensitivity of the Maloti- Drakensberg tarns needs to be considered in future policy formulation regarding acceptable levels of acidifying atmospheric pollution from South Africa’s energy sector and indicates the need for assessing aquatic ecosystem impacts in other regions of South Africa.
Keywords: acid neutralising capacity, critical loads, hydrochemistry, mountain lakes, steady-state water chemistry model