Water quality and quantity are two of the most important characteristics of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (NJPB). The water in the NJPB is acidic, with a pH ranging from 4.0 to 4.5. The acidic water conditions slows spoiling. Known as "sweet water", stores were kept on board for long sea voyages in the colonial era.
Many animals cannot live in low pH waters. The acidic water creates conditions that inhibit non-native species like the bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) that require a high pH for egg development. Native Pine Barrens fish and amphibians are adapted to acidic conditions. They often cannot compete with non-native species once the water quality is degraded and the pH becomes elevated. Higher pH means water becomes neutral or even basic. The presence of certain chemicals, such as phosphates and nitrates, elevates pH and this in turn has an impact on plant and animal species that live and breed in NJPB waters. These chemicals are often found in runoff from areas with high densities of agricultural land and development.
The Iron in the Water
Another interesting quality of NJPB water is its high iron content. The iron is formed through a series of chemical interactions. As the acidic groundwater moves through the iron-rich soil, it reaches the surface and is oxidized. This oxidation is catalyzed by iron-fixing bacteria (ferrobactins). These bacteria precipitate the iron, which can then be collected and smelted. Iron in New Jersey Pine Barrens water has played an important role in history. The munitions used by George Washington in the Revolutionary War were produced from bog iron that was formed by tiny bacteria in the streams of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Farms and housing developments have runoff containing phosphorus and other chemicals that can raise pH. As runoff enters rivers and streams, it can affect the water quality of the entire watershed and make it easier for introduced and invasive species to expand their populations and outcompete native fauna for resources. This has not happened at Warren Grove Gunnery Range because its waters are still relatively isolated from development.
A survey of the wetlands on Warren Grove Range shows that they form an important part of the landscape.
Another important aspect of water is hydrology. Hydrology can be considered the interaction between water and the landscape. Plants and animals are often affected by changes in water flow, water levels, groundwater seeps, and other hydrologic movement of water. Vernal (sometimes known as ephemeral) ponds often form near groundwater seeps or depressions that fill with precipitation. These ponds are not permanent, so they lack fish. This makes them excellent places for amphibians to breed, as fish often prey on amphibian eggs and tadpoles. Climate change may cause these ponds to dry up quickly, or changes to water flow may restrict their formation.
The Laboratory of Pinelands Research conducted a study and delineated the major wetland drainages at WGR so that mission activities do not impact water quality and wetland habitats. Researchers often check the status of wetlands in the field to monitor the local hydrology in active military areas.
One of the biggest drivers of the hydrology of the New Jersey Pine Barrens is the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. The sandy, porous soil drains quickly, and the water percolates down to the aquifer. Many wetlands in the New Jersey Pine Barrens depend on groundwater, especially during droughts. Rare plants such as swamp-pink (Helonias bullata) require stable water levels for survival.
The Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is also the source of water for household, commercial, and agricultural use. Over 47,000 million gallons are used per year. Because water percolates down to the aquifer from the surface, any chemicals in the surface water end up in the aquifer. Warren Grove Range has programs to keep harmful chemicals out of the water.
- To learn about how aquifers form, click on this techalive.mtu.edu
- To learn how to protect aquifers from pollution, follow this www4.agr.gc.ca
- To learn more about current scientific studies of global water resources, click on this earthobservatory.nasa.gov
The Buffer Zone on WGR has a variety of pristine wetland habitats, from bog savannas to shrub thickets and forested swamps. The plants and animals that live in these habitats depend on the stable conditions and high water quality.