Sulfate (SO42−) affects the cycling of ecologically important substances, such as carbon, nutrients and metals, but the contribution of anthropogenic activities in sulfate load entering aquatic systems is poorly known. We calculate specific sulfate loads for land cover types, atmospheric deposition and point sources, and then estimate the source-specific flux of sulfate to Finnish surface waters. The largest sulfate flux, entering mostly the Baltic Sea, originates from agricultural fields on acid sulfate soil (24% of total flux). Forests on mineral soil, which cover 67% of the country's surface area, form the second largest source (21%). Additionally, agricultural fields on non-acid soil cause noticeable sulfate flux (16%). Pulp and paper mills were the key point sources (20%) for sulfate. We find that anthropogenic activities contribute to elevated sulfate levels in waters potentially affecting the cycling of nutrients, metals and formation of greenhouse gases in naturally sulfate-poor freshwaters. Based on these findings, sulfate should be systematically included in monitoring and pollution control measures.
- Baltic Sea
- Water quality