Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 163, Issue 1, pp 53-79

First online:

Transmission of Atmospherically Derived Trace Elements Through an Undeveloped, Forested Maryland Watershed

  • Joseph R. ScudlarkAffiliated withGraduate College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware Email author 
  • , Karen C. RiceAffiliated withWater Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , Kathryn M. ConkoAffiliated withGraduate College of Marine Studies, University of DelawareWater Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , Owen P. BrickerAffiliated withWater Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , Thomas M. ChurchAffiliated withGraduate College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware

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The transmission of atmospherically derived trace elements (Al, As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb, Se, and Zn) was evaluated in a small, undeveloped, forested watershed located in north-central Maryland. Atmospheric input was determined for wet-only and vegetative throughfall components. Annual throughfall fluxes were significantly enriched over incident precipitation for most elements, although some elements exhibited evidence of canopy release (Mn) or preferential uptake (As, Cr, and Se). Stream export was gauged based on systematic sampling under varied flow regimes. Particle loading appears to contribute significantly to watershed export (> 10%) for only As, Pb, and Fe, and then only during large precipitation/runoff events. The degree of watershed transmission for each trace element was evaluated based on a comparison of total, net atmospheric input (throughfall) to stream export over an annual hydrologic cycle. This comparison indicates that the atmospheric input of some elements (Al, Cd, Ni, Zn) is effectively transmitted through the watershed, but other elements (Pb, As, Se, Fe, Cr, Cu) appear to be strongly sequestered, in the respective orders noted. Results suggest that precipitation and subsequent soil pH are the primary factors that determine the mobility of sequestered trace element phases.

To further resolve primary atmospheric and secondary weathering components, the geochemical model NETPATH was applied. Results indicate that minerals dissolved include chlorite, plagioclase feldspar, epidote, and potassium feldspar; phases formed were kaolinite, pyrite, and silica. The model also indicates that weathering processes contribute negligible amounts of trace elements to stream export, indicative of the unreactive orthoquartzite bedrock lithology underlying the watershed. Thus, the stream export of trace elements primarily reflects atmospheric deposition to the local watershed.


atmospheric deposition forested watershed Maryland throughfall trace elements