Accumulation of deicing salts in soils in an urban environment
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- Cunningham, M.A., Snyder, E., Yonkin, D. et al. Urban Ecosyst (2008) 11: 17. doi:10.1007/s11252-007-0031-x
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Examining rates of deicing salt accumulation and leaching in urban soils is important for understanding the distribution and movement of salt in the environment. We examined autumn concentrations of deicing salts in soils in a moderately dense urban landscape in eastern New York State. The study area contrasted to the isolated, rural highways examined in previous studies. While NaCl was the most abundantly applied salt, Mg2+ (apparently from MgCl2, a secondary deicing salt) was the most abundant salt cation in soils. Moderate Na+ levels, and equivalent concentrations at depth and in surface samples, indicate that leaching of Na+ is rapid in this system. Leaching may ameliorate toxicity for land plants but accelerate inputs to aquatic systems. In contrast to rural highway studies, where salt levels declined rapidly with distance to pavement, Na+ remained elevated at the maximum distance measured. Airborne salt dispersal and dense networks of pavement likely contribute to widespread elevated salt levels. This semi-urban setting had salt levels high enough to be toxic to terrestrial plants and soil protozoa. Even moderate levels of development can have dramatic effects on salt inputs into soils and aquatic systems.