, Volume 4, Issue 2-3, pp 325-342

A Biogeochemical Comparison of Two Well-Buffered Catchments with Contrasting Histories of Acid Deposition

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Abstract

Much of the biogeochemical cycling research in catchments in the past 25 years has been driven by acid deposition research funding. This research has focused on vulnerable base-poor systems; catchments on alkaline lithologies have received little attention. In regions of high acid loadings, however, even well-buffered catchments are susceptible to forest decline and episodes of low alkalinity in streamwater. As part of a collaboration between the Czech and U.S. Geological Surveys, we compared biogeochemical patterns in two well-studied, well-buffered catchments: Pluhuv Bor in the western Czech Republic, which has received high loading of atmospheric acidity, and Sleepers River Research Watershed in Vermont, U.S.A., where acid loading has been considerably less. Despite differences in lithology, wetness, forest type, and glacial history, the catchments displayed similar patterns of solute concentrations and flow. At both catchments, base cation and alkalinity diluted with increasing flow, whereas nitrate and dissolved organic carbon increased with increasing flow. Sulfate diluted with increasing flow at Sleepers River, while at Pluhuv Bor the sulfate-flow relation shifted from positive to negative as atmospheric sulfur (S) loadings decreased and soil S pools were depleted during the 1990s. At high flow, alkalinity decreased to near 100 μeq L-1 at Pluhuv Bor compared to 400 μeq L-1 at Sleepers River. Despite the large amounts of S flushed from Pluhuv Bor soils, these alkalinity declines were caused solely by dilution, which was greater at Pluhuv Bor relative to Sleepers River due to greater contributions from shallow flow paths at high flow. Although the historical high S loading at Pluhuv Bor has caused soil acidification and possible forest damage, it has had little effect on the acid/base status of streamwater in this well-buffered catchment.