The spatial and seasonal variation of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Canada, and the association with lichen abundance

Mark D. Gibson, Mathew R. Heal, Zhengyan Li, James Kutcha, Gavin H. King, Alex Hayes, Sheldon Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Over 200,000 tourists per year visit Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada. The forests within the park are home to many rare epiphytic lichens, the species diversity of which has declined in some areas. The primary motivation for this study was to gain insight into the concentrations and potential local and long range sources of air pollution, but its association with lichen species diversity was also examined. Ogawa passive diffusion samplers were used to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the park at 19 sites in the winter and 20 sites in the summer of 2011. An improvement in the sensitivity of the sampler analytical protocol was developed. The mean concentrations in the park of winter and summer NO2 (0.81 and 0.16 ppb) and SO2 (0.24 and 0.21 ppb) are not at levels known to be phytotoxic to lichen. The NO2 concentrations in winter were significantly (p = 0.001) higher than those in summer whilst the SO2 concentrations did not differ significantly between winter and summer (p = 0.429). Highest NO2 concentrations in both seasons were observed in the Grand Anse Valley, presumably due to the steep road, emissions from the Pleasant Bay community at the foot of the valley and the enclosed topography of this area reducing dispersion of primary emissions. The SO2 concentrations in the park tended to be greater at elevated sites than valley sites, consistent with dispersion from long-range, rather than local, sources for this pollutant. Significant predictors in a multilinear regression for an index of air purity (lichen based measure of air quality) were lichen species number (p = 0.009), forest old growth index (p = 0.001) and distance from roads (p < 0.001) (model R2 = 0.8, model p = 0.004). The study suggests that local sources of pollution (roads emissions) are adversely associated with lichen species diversity in this National Park, compared with long-range transport, and that monitoring programs such as a lichen based ‘index of air purity’ can reveal locations where ambient air pollution, although low, is nevertheless at a level that may cause ecological detriment. The implications from this work could be applicable to national parks elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-311
Number of pages9
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Volume64
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

Keywords

  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • sulpur dixoide
  • air quality
  • air pollution
  • lichen abundance
  • passive samplers

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