Atmospheric deposition and the processes that are involved in causing and altering atmospheric deposition in relation to highway surfaces and runoff were evaluated nationwide. Wet deposition is more easily monitored than dry deposition, and data on wet deposition are available for major elements and water properties (constituents affecting acid deposition) from the inter-agency National Atmospheric Deposition Program/ National Trends Network (NADP/NTN). Many trace constituents (metals and organic compounds) of interest in highway runoff loads, however, are not included in the NADP/NTN. Dry deposition, which constitutes a large part of total atmospheric deposition for many constituents in highway runoff loads, is difficult to monitor accurately. Dry-deposition rates are not widely available.
Many of the highway-runoff investigations that have addressed atmospheric-deposition sources have had flawed investigative designs or problems with methodology. Some results may be incorrect because of reliance on time-aggregated data collected during a period of changing atmospheric emissions. None of the investigations used methods that could accurately quantify the part of highway runoff load that can be attributed to ambient atmospheric deposition. Lack of information about accurate ambient deposition rates and runoff loads was part of the problem. Samples collected to compute the rates and loads were collected without clean-sampling methods or sampler protocols, and without quality-assurance procedures that could validate the data. Massbudget calculations comparing deposition and runoff did not consider loss of deposited material during on-highway processing. Loss of deposited particles from highway travel lanes could be large, as has been determined in labeled particle studies, because of resuspension caused by turbulence from passing traffic. Although a cause of resuspension of large particles, traffic turbulence may increase the rate of deposition for small particles and gases by impaction, especially during precipitation periods.
Ultimately, traffic and road maintenance may be determined to be the source of many constituents measured in highway runoff previously attributed to ambient atmospheric deposition. An investigative design using tracers of ambient deposition that are not present in highway traffic sources could determine conclusively what fraction of highway runoff load is contributed by ambient atmospheric deposition.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Methodology and Significance of Studies of Atmospheric Deposition in Highway Runoff