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Hydrologic and geochemical factors affecting the chemistry of small headwater streams in response to acidic deposition on Catoctin Mountain, north-central Maryland

December 1, 1996

Hydrologic and water-quality data were collected at a precipitation-collection station and from two small watersheds on Catoctin Mountain, north- central Maryland, as part of an investigation of episodic acidification and its effects on streamwater quality. Data were collected from June 1990 through December 1993. Descriptions of the water shed instrumentation, data-collection techniques, and laboratory methods used to conduct the studies are included. Data that were collected on precipitation, throughfall, soil water, ground water, and streamwater during base flow and stormflow indicate that the streams undergo episodic acidification during storms. Both streams showed decreases in pH to less than 5.0 standard units during stormflow. The acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC) of both streams decreased during stormflow, and the ANC of one of the streams, Bear Branch, became negative. The chemistries of the different types of waters that were sampled indicate that shallow subsurface water with minimal residence time in the watersheds is routed to the streams to become stormflow and is the cause of the episodic acidification observed. Three-component hydrograph separations were performed on the data collected during several storms in each watershed. The hydrograph separations of all of the storms indicate that throughfall contributed 0 to 50 percent of the stormflow, soil water contributed 0 to 80 percent, and ground water contributed 20 to 90 percent. The results of the hydrograph separations indicate that, in general, the watershed with higher hydraulic gradients tends to have shallower and shorter flow paths than the watershed with lower hydraulic gradients.