Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Comparison of episodic acidification of Mid-Atlantic Upland and Coastal Plain streams

January 1, 1993

Episodic acidification was examined in five mid-Atlantic watersheds representing three physiographic provinces: Coastal Plain, Valley and Ridge, and Blue Ridge. Each of the watersheds receives a similar loading of atmospheric pollutants (SO42− and NO3) and is underlain by different bedrock type. The purpose of this research was to quantify and compare the episodic variability in storm flow chemistry in Reedy Creek, Virginia (Coastal Plain), Mill Run and Shelter Run, Virginia (Valley and Ridge), and Fishing Creek Tributary and Hunting Creek, Maryland (Blue Ridge). Because episodic responses were similar from storm to storm in each of the watersheds, a representative storm from each watershed was discussed. Acidification, defined as the loss of acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC), was observed in all streams except Mill Run. Mill Run chemistry showed little episodic variability. During storms in the other streams, pH decreased while SO42−, NO3, and K+ concentrations increased. Concentrations of Mg2+ and Ca2+ increased in Reedy Creek and Fishing Creek Tributary, but decreased in Shelter Run and Hunting Creek. Therefore the net effect of episodic changes on the acid-base status differed among the streams. In general, greater losses of ANC were observed during storms at Shelter Run and Hunting Creek, watersheds underlain by reactive bedrock (carbonate, metabasalt); comparatively smaller losses in ANC were observed at Reedy Creek and Fishing Creek Tributary, watersheds underlain by quartzites and unconsolidated quartz sands and cobbles. Increased SO42− concentrations were most important during storms at Reedy Creek and Fishing Creek Tributary, but organic anions (inferred by anion deficit) were also a factor in causing the loss of ANC. Dilution of base cations was the most important factor in the loss of ANC at Shelter Run. Both increased sulfate and dilution of base flow were important in causing the episodic acidification at Hunting Creek. The role of SO42− in contributing to episodic acidification in these watersheds is similar to that documented in studies conducted in other regions of the United States, Scandinavia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The importance of SO42− in mid-Atlantic United States streams contrasts with northeastern United States streams, in which increased NO3- derived from snowpack is more important in causing episodic acidification. Results support the importance of shallow subsurface processes in determining storm flow chemistry, regional climatic characteristics in determining the different sources of acidity during episodes, and the importance of bedrock geology in determining the amount of ANC loss.

Publication Year 1993
Title Comparison of episodic acidification of Mid-Atlantic Upland and Coastal Plain streams
DOI 10.1029/93WR01408
Authors Anne K. O'Brien, Karen C. Rice, Margaret M. Kennedy, Owen P. Bricker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water Resources Research
Index ID 70179664
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Virginia Water Science Center