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Since 1987, the Regional Forestry Board of Lombardy and the Water Research Institute of the National Research Council have been carrying out surveys of forest conditions and the response of the ecosystem to environmental factors. The study approach is based on a large number of permanent plots for extensive monitoring (Level 1). At this level, crown condition is assessed annually, and soil condition and the nutritional status of forests surveyed. Some of the permanent plots were selected for intensive monitoring (Level 2), focussing mainly on the impact of atmospheric pollution on forest ecosystems. Level 2 monitoring also includes increment analyses, ground vegetation assessment, atmospheric deposition, soil solution analyses and climatic observations. This paper summarises the main results of a pluriannual research, which provides a general picture of the state of forest health in the region and focuses on more detailed investigations, described as case studies. Modified wet and dry samplers which use a water surface to collect dry deposition were used in a pluriannual field campaign at five sites in alpine and prealpine areas, to measure the total atmospheric depositions and to evaluate the nitrogen and sulphate exceedances of critical loads. Throughfall and bulk precipitation chemistry were studied for five years (June 1994-May 1999) at two high elevation forest sites (Val Gerola and Val Masino) which were known to differ in terms of tree health, as assessed by live crown condition. Results indicated a higher contribution from the dry deposition of N-NO3 -, N-NH4 + and H+ and considerable canopy leaching of Ca2+, K+ and weak organic acids at Val Gerola, where the symptoms of damage were more evident. In the area of Val Masino (SO), included since 1997 in the national CONECOFOR network, investigations focused on the effectiveness of the biological compartment in modifying fluxes of atmospheric elements, and on the role of nitrogen both as an acidifying element and as a nutrient. To estimate the input-output budget of the catchment, monitoring was extended to stream water and soil solution.
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