A 2-year study of precipitation composition over eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia has been completed. Chemical analyses were made of the major ions in monthly rainfall samples from each of 12 sampling locations. Areal and seasonal distributions were determined for chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfate, and nitrate.
Annual changes in loads and in geographical distribution of sulfate and of nitrate are small. Yearly rainfall sulfate loads amount to approximately 7 tons per square mile, whereas deposition of nitrate is about 2 tons per square mile per year in the interior of the network and less near the coast. Areal patterns of chloride content are consistent with the assumption that the ocean is the only major source of rainfall chloride in the area. Chloride loads were 2.1 and 1.8 tons per square mile per year; the difference can be attributed to meteorological conditions.
Cation concentrations in network precipitation appear to depend on localized sources, probably soil dust. Annual loads of the major cations are approximately 2 tons per square mile of calcium, 1.8 tons per square mile of sodium, 0.5 ton per square mile of magnesium, and 0.3 ton per square mile of potassium; considerable year-to-year differences were noted in these values.
Bicarbonate and hydrogen ion in network rainfall are closely related to the relative concentrations of sulfate and calcium. Apparently, reaction of an acidic sulfur-containing aerosol with an alkaline calcium source is one of the principal controls on precipitation alkalinity and pH.
Ions in precipitation contribute substantially to the quality of surface water in the network area. Comparisons between precipitation input and stream export of ions for four North Carolina rivers show that rainfall sulfate is equal to sulfate discharged, whereas nitrate in rain slightly exceeds stream nitrate. Contributions of cations to the streams by way of precipitation range from about 20 percent for potassium to almost 50 percent for calcium.
Chloride deposited by precipitation amounts to about one-fourth of the stream load. Additions of manufactured salt may account for much of the remainder of the surface-water load.
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USGS Numbered Series
Annual variations in chemical composition of atmospheric precipitation, eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia