Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Julia N. Perdrial

Second Advisor

Donald S. Ross


Acid deposition forms when emission-derived sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides interact with precipitation and was particularly severe in the northeastern US. Effects of acid deposition include declining soil quality due to low pH and base cation leaching, which subsequently altered the composition of soil solution, ground water (GW) and eventually stream water. Because of the high buffering capacity of carbonates, watersheds underlain by carbonate rich rocks have received limited attention in acid deposition studies, however, carbonate weathering by strong anthropogenic acids can increase atmospheric CO2 levels.

Emission reductions due to the Clean Air Act and Amendments has led to a substantial reduction of acid deposition and many ecosystems are now recovering and stream water exports contain lower concentrations of acid anions and base cations. However, the effects of recovery on watershed soil, soil solution, and GW composition, which potentially varies with landscape position, are not well constrained. The objective of this study was therefore to investigate links between soils and water composition in a watershed with important carbonate contents in the underlying rock, the Sleepers River Research Watershed (SRRW), using long-term datasets that span the recovery period. Temporal trends (1991-2015) for acid anions (sulfate and nitrate), pH, base cations (Ca, Na) and Si were investigated for stream water and trends with time, depth, and landscape position (hilltop, hillslope, and riparian zone) for the same solutes were assessed in GW and soil solution (2004-2013). Furthermore, soil elemental composition and mineralogy in archived (1996) and modern (2017) soil samples were analyzed to investigate changes in soil composition due to base cation leaching and carbonate weathering with time and landscape position. Results indicate that SRRW is indeed recovering from acidification as evidenced by declining sulfate content and rising pH in stream water, GW, and soil solution. Additionally, Ca typically derived from carbonate weathering decreased progressively with time in GW and showed signs of decreasing in soil solution at various landscape positions due to reduced leaching. However, Ca in stream water shows slight increases, likely due to Ca released from riparian soil stores. Spatial heterogeneity is especially pronounced in headwater catchments with steep topography as evidenced by changes in solution and soil composition along hillslopes.

In addition to the paper submitted for publication (Chapter 2) to Frontiers in Earth Science – Biogeochemistry this thesis includes i) a background and literature review to inform the reader on pertinent topics, ii) an appendix containing additional soil data with figures, iii) and an appendix with additional aqueous phase data with figures.



Number of Pages

110 p.