The Effect of PH in River Water


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.

Aerial view of river
Aerial view of river (Image: Johnny Lye/iStock/Getty Images)


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.

Scientist testing pH levels in a pond
Scientist testing pH levels in a pond (Image: Izzet Noyan Yilmaz/iStock/Getty Images)

Sources of Acidity

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.

Raindrops on river
Raindrops on river (Image: sezer66/iStock/Getty Images)

Effects of Low pH

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

Fish swimming upstream
Fish swimming upstream (Image: moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images)

Buffering Capacity

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

Limestone wall
Limestone wall (Image: psynovec/iStock/Getty Images)

Factors Influencing pH

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.

Truck exits mine
Truck exits mine (Image: Dale Baxter/iStock/Getty Images)

Benefits of Testing pH

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.

Rocks underneath a river
Rocks underneath a river (Image: SanderStock/iStock/Getty Images)

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