, Volume 116, Issue 1–3, pp 119–130 | Cite as

Roles of sulfate adsorption and base cation supply in controlling the chemical response of streams of western Virginia to reduced acid deposition

  • Andrew L. RobisonEmail author
  • Todd M. Scanlon
  • Bernard J. Cosby
  • James R. Webb
  • James N. Galloway


Decreased acid deposition over recent decades has led to reductions in streamwater acidity on a widespread basis throughout the U.S. and Europe. A notable exception has been the southern Appalachian Mountains of the southeastern U.S., where declines in acid deposition have not translated into similar trends in stream chemistry in these watersheds with highly-weathered soils. To better characterize this observed behavior, streamwater samples collected at 64 sites in western Virginia on a quarterly basis from 1987 to 2011 were analyzed for chemical properties. Individual watershed response was strongly influenced by the dominant underlying bedrock, which affected sulfate (\( {\text{SO}}_{4}^{2 - } \)) adsorption and base cation supply. Overall, pH increased at a majority of sites across all bedrock types. However, acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) decreased at most sites underlain by base-poor bedrock, suggesting the susceptibility to episodic acidification remains a serious threat to these streams. The declines in ANC were more closely related the depletion of base cations (Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, and Na+) rather than increased \( {\text{SO}}_{4}^{2 - } \) concentration. Sites with higher relative \( {\text{SO}}_{4}^{2 - } \) adsorption exhibited little change in ANC. A mass balance analysis of sulfur at a base-poor watershed revealed that exports have recently surpassed inputs for the first time within the several-decade period of record. This pattern appears likely to continue, and if sustained, the depletion of the stored pool of sulfur signifies an important precursor for further improvements in streamwater acidity in the region.


Stream acidification Acid deposition Acid neutralizing capacity Base cations Sulfate adsorption 



Support for this study was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Trout Unlimited, the Appalachian Stewardship Foundation, and NSF Grant EAR-0645697. This paper has not been subjected to agency review and no official endorsement by any agency should be inferred. This paper is a contribution to the Shenandoah Watershed Study. We thank Suzanne Maben, Michael Pace, and Karen Rice for their input and help throughout this investigation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew L. Robison
    • 1
    Email author
  • Todd M. Scanlon
    • 1
  • Bernard J. Cosby
    • 1
  • James R. Webb
    • 1
  • James N. Galloway
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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