1. We surveyed eighty-five lakes located in the Adirondack Mountain Region of New York State, U.S.A., to characterize the attenuation of photosynthetically active (PAR) and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in relation to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and pH. Attenuation of PAR was quantified in situ. Attenuation was also inferred by measuring the light absorption of filtered lake water samples at wavelengths (300, 340 and 440 nm) representing UV-B, UV-A and PAR.
2. Substantial variation in transparency was observed among lakes in this region. Attenuation depths (z1%) for PAR ranged from 0.5 to greater than 20 m, while inferred values for UV-B and UV-A ranged from a few centimetres to > 5 m. Median values of UV-A penetration (0.75 m) and UV-B penetration (0.45 m) corresponded to 11% (UV-A) and 6% (UV-B) of lake maximum depth.
3. Much of the variation in PAR and UVR attenuation was explained by differences in lake DOC. Univariate power models based solely on DOC accounted for 85% (PAR), 90% (UV-A) and 91% (UV-B) of the variation in absorption.
4. Attenuation and absorption coefficients were generally lower for recently acidified lakes compared to acidic and circumneutral lakes which have not undergone recent acidification. However, differences among these three groups of lakes were not statistically significant. Our results suggest that the effects of acidification on the optical properties of a regional population of lakes, even in an area experiencing widespread acidification, are relatively subtle in comparison with other factors contributing to inter-lake variability.
5. The presence of near-shore wetlands is probably a key factor influencing regional variability in DOC and light climate among Adirondack lakes. Temporal variability in climatic factors influencing wetland DOC production and export may mask more subtle influences on lake DOC associated with anthropogenic acidification.