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Relating hydrogeomorphic properties to stream buffering chemistry in the Neversink River watershed, New York State, USA



Monitoring the effects of acidic deposition on aquatic ecosystems in the Northeastern US has generally required regular measurements of stream buffering chemistry (i.e. acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC) and calcium Ca2+), which can be expensive and time consuming. The goal of this paper was to develop a simple method for predicting baseflow buffering chemistry based on the hydrogeomorphic properties of ten nested watersheds in the Neversink River basin (2·0–176·0 km2), an acid-sensitive basin in the Catskill Mountains, New York State. The tributaries and main reach watersheds have strongly contrasting mean baseflow ANC values and Ca2+ concentrations, despite rather homogeneous vegetation, bedrock geology, and soils. A stepwise regression was applied to relate 13 hydrogeomorphic properties to the mean baseflow ANC values and Ca2+ concentrations. The regression analysis showed that watersheds with lower ANC values had a higher mean ratio of ‘quickflow’ runoff to precipitation during 20 non-snowmelt runoff events (referred to as mean runoff ratio). The mean runoff ratio could explain at least 80% of the variability in mean baseflow ANC values and Ca2+ concentrations among the ten watersheds. Greater mean runoff ratios also correlated with steeper slopes and greater drainage densities, thus allowing the prediction of baseflow ANC values (r2 = 0·75) and Ca2+ concentrations (r2 = 0·77) with widely available spatial data alone. These results indicate that hydrogeomorphic properties can predict a watershed's sensitivity to acid deposition in regions where the spatial sources of stream buffering chemistry from the bedrock mineralogy and soils are fairly uniform. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.