Use of soil-streamwater relationships to assess regional patterns of acidic deposition effects in the northeastern USA

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Declines of acidic deposition levels by as much as 50% since 1990 have led to partial recovery of surface waters in the northeastern USA but continued depletion of soil calcium through this same period suggests a disconnection between soil and surface water chemistry. To investigate the role of soil-surface water interactions in recovery from acidification, the first regional survey to directly relate soil chemistry to stream chemistry during high flow was implemented in a 4144-km2 area of the Catskill region of New York, where acidic deposition levels are among the highest in the East.


More than 40% of 95 streams sampled in the southern Catskill Mountains were determined to be acidified and had inorganic monomeric aluminum concentrations that exceeded a threshold that is toxic to aquatic biota. More than 80% likely exceeded this threshold during the highest flows, but less than 10% of more than 100 streams sampled were acidified in the northwestern portion of the region. Median Oa horizon soil base saturation ranged from 50% to 80% at 200 sites across the region, but median base saturation in the upper 10 cm of the B horizon was less than 20% across the region and was only 2% in the southern area. Aluminum is likely to be interfering with root uptake of calcium in the mineral horizon in approximately half the sampled watersheds. Stream chemistry was highly variable over the Catskill region and, therefore, did not always reflect the calcium depletion of the B horizon that our sampling suggested was nearly ubiquitous throughout the region. Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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