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Chemical and biological trends associated with acidic atmospheric deposition in the Rhode River watershed and estuary

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Abstract

The Rhode River estuarine/watershed system is a tributary of Chesapeake Bay located on the inner Atlantic Coastal Plain. Its soils are fine sandy loams. Bulk precipitation pH in the spring season declined from 4.95 in 1974 to 3.82 in 1981 and was 4.03 in 1985. The changes in pH of a forested primary stream were more related to changes in bulk precipitation pH than were the changes in pH of agricultural streams, reflecting the importance of other major terrestrial sources of acidity on agricultural systems. Surges in acidity and dissolved total Al concentration in primary (first order) streams reached extremes of pH 3.2 and 300 μg Al L−1. Higher order streams were observed to have surges in acidity with pH minima below 5.0. Surges in acidity ocurred during accelerated groundwater percolation following storm events and did not coincide with surface runoff or snowmelt. One of the reasons why groundwater is more acidic than surface runoff is that the vegetation exchanges H30 + for alkaline cations in the soil and translocates these ions to the vegetational canopy. When it rains, subsequently, H30+ in the precipitation displace some of these alkaline cations from the canopy. The end result is that overland flow during storms is enriched in alkaline cations, while groundwater is enriched in H30+. Although the source of dissolved Al is dissolution of clay minerals with atomic ratios of Al to silicate of 1:l, 1:2, or 1:3, this ratio in stream water rapidly declined to 1:1200 due to loss of Al. On average, forest drainage was the most acidic, the highest in dissolved Al, and the lowest in Ca. Surges in acidity were most severe from pastureland, and next most severe from cropland. Total fluoride concentrations were high relative to Al from all three land uses. Rhode River spawning runs of Perca flavescens declined drastically from the early 1970s to essentially zero since 1981. Larval bioassays of acidity indicate negligible toxicity to Hyla crucifer, significant toxicity to Perca flavescens and drastic effects on Morone saxatilis at pH 5.0.

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Correll, D.L., Miklas, J.J., Hines, A.H. et al. Chemical and biological trends associated with acidic atmospheric deposition in the Rhode River watershed and estuary. Water Air Soil Pollut 35, 63–86 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00183844

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00183844

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