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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Causes of Acidification of Four Streams on Laurel Hill in Southwestern Pennsylvania1


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 13 No. 4, p. 619-631
    Received: Jan 31, 1983

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  1. William E. Sharpe,
  2. David R. De Walle,
  3. Robert T. Leibfried,
  4. Richard S. Dinicola,
  5. William G. Kimmel and
  6. Lysle S. Sherwin2



Atmospheric deposition, soils developed from bedrock, a natural bog, gas wells, and a ski area were all investigated as possible sources of water quality degradation for four streams on Laurel Hill in southwestern Pennsylvania where fish kills have been reported since 1960. An intensive study of the chemistry of atmospheric deposition, soil leachate, and stream water and fish populations was conducted on these basins during 1980–1981 with emphasis on dormant season periods with runoff from snowmelt and rain. Although bedrock geology was found to control the natural buffering capacity of these streams, only acid precipitation could be linked to sharp drops in pH and increases in total Al concentrations observed during stormflows in the poorly buffered streams. Three poorly buffered streams exhibited drops to pH 4.4 to 4.5 and increases in total Al concentrations up to 1.5 mg/L during observed peak flows. Mineral soil leachate from the three major soil series on the basins during this time exhibited a low pH of 4.3 and mean total Al concentrations of 3.6 mg/L, indicating stream response during storms was closely linked to chemistry of soil leachate. Poorly buffered streams did not support reproducing populations of trout (Salmonidae sp.) or other fishes. In contrast, one well-buffered stream (20 mg/L CaCO3) exhibited drops to pH 5.5 during peak flow and supported reproducing trout and sculpin (Cottus bairdi) populations. The acidification of the four streams studied was attributed to atmospheric deposition.

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