Water Resources Research

Modeling the Effects of Acid Deposition: Estimation of Long-Term Water Quality Responses in a Small Forested Catchment


  • B. J. Cosby,

  • R. F. Wright,

  • G. M. Hornberger,

  • J. N. Galloway


Research in recent years has led to conceptualizations of the long-term responses of catchment surface water quality to acidic deposition. That research has focused attention on certain soil processes as likely keys to catchment responses (anion retention, cation exchange, primary mineral weathering, aluminum dissolution, and CO2 solubility). We present a mathematical model which uses quantitative descriptions of these soil chemical processes to estimate the long-term chemical changes that occur in the soil, soil water, and surface waters of catchments in response to changes in atmospheric deposition. The model is applied to a small forested catchment in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Historical changes in surface water quality are reconstructed for the catchment for the last 140 years. The model indicates that alkalinity of surface waters in the catchment may have been reduced by as much as 50%. Water quality is forecast for the catchment under three different scenarios of future changes in atmospheric deposition. The model indicates that all but very large reductions in deposition will result in further deterioration of the catchment water quality. The process-oriented, lumped-parameter approach used is consistent with all currently available observations of water quality in the catchment. Due to the lack of long-term records of catchment water quality, strict verification of the model estimates and an assessment of the model validity is problematic. This is the case for all models of long-terrn catchment chemical responses to acid deposition. Nonetheless, the model provides a means of integrating the results of individual process level laboratory and field studies. Used this way, the model becomes a vehicle for examining the interactions and long-term implications of our conceptualization of the acidification process.