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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Atmospheric Pollutants and Trace Gases

Effects of Smelter Sulfur Dioxide Emissions


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 33 No. 1, p. 13-26
    Received: Oct 7, 2002

    * Corresponding author(s): msavard@nrcan.gc.ca
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  1. Martine M. Savard *a,
  2. Christian Bégina,
  3. Michel Parenta,
  4. Anna Smirnoffa and
  5. Joëlle Marionb
  1. a Natural Resources Canada, Geological Survey of Canada, 880 Chemin Ste-Foy, Bureau 840, QC, Canada G1S 2L2
    b INRS-ETE, 880 Chemin Ste-Foy, Bureau 840, B.P. 7500, Sainte-Foy, QC, Canada G1V 4C7


We wanted to test the hypothesis that forest exposure to phytotoxic gases indirectly affects their carbon uptake. We estimated that the reduction of photosynthesis may have reached 20 to 30% at a site located 9 km (test site) from the Horne copper smelter in Rouyn–Noranda, which is a point source of SO2 Twenty-one spruce trees older than 100 yr were selected from seven sites at various distances from the smelter to evaluate conditions prior to and during the periods of smelter operation. The carbon isotope results obtained from spruce tree rings at our test site reveal an unprecedented and abrupt shift of +4‰ after the onset of smelter operations. This large and permanent shift exceeds natural variations in regional pre-smelter series or in the series at a remote control site. All trees up to 116 km downwind from the smelter show δ13C positive shifts following the onset of operations. There is also a clear inverse relationship between the amplitude of the first-order trends and distance from the smelter. Those δ13C trends indicate that trees exposed to high levels of SO2 decrease their level of CO2 uptake through activation of stomatal closure. This is strongly supported by the significant departure of the Rouyn–Noranda trends from those measured for trees from non-industrialized areas of the Northern Hemisphere, or calculated using global atmospheric conditions. Considering the large number of SO2 point sources in North America, our results imply that CO2 uptake by the boreal forest in the vicinity of these sources may be lower than previously thought.

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