Despite a decreasing trend in acidic deposition rates over the past two to three decades, acidified surface waters in the northeastern United States have shown minimal changes. Depletion of soil Ca pools has been suggested as a cause, although changes in soil Ca pools have not been directly related to long-term records of stream chemistry. To investigate this problem, a comprehensive watershed study was conducted in the Neversink River Basin, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, during 1991-1996. Spatial variations of atmospheric deposition, soil chemistry, and stream chemistry were evaluated over an elevation range of 817-1234 m to determine whether these factors exhibited elevational patterns. An increase in atmospheric deposition of SO4 with increasing elevation corresponded with upslope decreases of exchangeable soil base concentrations and acid-neutralizing capacity of stream water. Exchangeable base concentrations in homogeneous soil incubated within the soil profile for one year also decreased with increasing elevation. An elevational gradient in precipitation was not observed, and effects of a temperature gradient on soil properties were not detected. Laboratory leaching experiments with soils from this watershed showed that (1) concentrations of Ca in leachate increased as the concentrations of acid anions in added solution increased, and (2) the slope of this relationship was positively correlated with base saturation. Field and laboratory soil analyses are consistent with the interpretation that decreasing trends in acid-neutralizing capacity in stream water in the Neversink Basin, dating back to 1984, are the result of decreases in soil base saturation caused by acidic deposition.
Additional publication details
Soil calcium status and the response of stream chemistry to changing acidic deposition rates