Northeastern Section - 53rd Annual Meeting - 2018

Paper No. 48-9
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM


BURNS, Douglas A., New York Water Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, 425 Jordan Rd, Troy, NY 12180-8349

Episodic acidification occurs when surface water pH and ANC decrease temporarily during rain events and snowmelt. The principal drivers of episodic acidification are increases in sulfuric acid, nitric acid, organic acids, and dilution of base cations. In regions where surface waters are sensitive to acid deposition, ANC values may approach or decline below 0 µeq/L during high flows, which may result in deleterious effects to sensitive aquatic biota. The Adirondack Mountains of New York have abundant streams and lakes, many of which are highly sensitive to the effects of acid deposition. Long-term monitoring data indicate that pH and ANC in regional surface waters are increasing in response to decreases in the acidity of atmospheric deposition that result from decreasing SO2 and NOx emissions as the Clean Air Act and its ancillary rules and amendments have been implemented. Most surface-water monitoring focuses on low-flow and broad seasonal patterns, and less is known about how episodic acidification has responded to emissions decreases. Here, we report on spatial and temporal patterns in episodic acidification through analysis of C-Q relations from surveys that target varying flow conditions as well as data from a few long-term intensively sampled stream monitoring sites. Each stream sample was assigned a Q percentile value based on a resident or nearby gage, and a statistical relation between ANC values and Q percentile was developed. The magnitude of episodic decreases in ANC increases as low-flow ANC increases, a pattern that likely results from an increasing influence of dilution by rapid runoff, especially evident when low-flow ANC values exceed 100 µeq/L. Chronically acidic streams with low-flow ANC near 0 µeq/L show little episodic acidification, whereas streams with low-flow ANC values of about 40 µeq/L generally show ANC decreases to about 0 µeq/L at high flow. Analysis of a 25-yr data set (1991-2016) at Buck Creek indicates that increases in high-flow ANC are greater than those of low-flow ANC. These ANC values generally no longer decline below 0 µeq/L at the highest flows, which typically occur during spring snowmelt. Further analyses will explore how the drivers of episodic acidification vary across the region with low-flow ANC and whether clear trends in these drivers are evident across the region.