Articles | Volume 1, issue 3
30 Sep 1997
30 Sep 1997

Acid neutralization capacity measurements in surface and ground waters in the Upper River Severn, Plynlimon: from hydrograph splitting to water flow pathways

C. Neal, T. Hill, S. Hill, and B. Reynolds

Abstract. Acid Neutralization Capacity (ANC) data for ephemeral stream and shallow groundwater for the catchments of the upper River Severn show a highly heterogeneous system of within-catchment water flow pathways and chemical weathering on scales of less than 100m. Ephemeral streams draining permeable soils seem to be supplied mainly from shallow groundwater sources. For these streams, large systematic differences in pH and alkalinity occur due to the variability of the groundwater sources and variability in water residence times. However, the variability cannot be gauged on the basis of broad based physical information collected in the field as geology, catchment gradients and forest structure are very similar. In contrast, ephemeral streams draining impermeable soils are of more uniform chemistry as surface runoff is mainly supplied from the soil zone. Groundwater ANC varies considerably over space and time. In general, the groundwaters have higher ANCs than the ephemeral streams. This is due to increased chemical weathering from the inorganic materials in the lower soils and groundwater areas and possibly longer residence times. However, during the winter months the groundwater ANCs tend to be at their lowest due to additional event driven acidic soil water contributions and intermediate groundwater residence times.
The results indicate the inappropriateness of a blanket approach to classifying stream vulnerability to acidification simply on the basis of soil sensitivity. However, the results may well indicate good news for the environmental management of acidic and acid sensitive systems. For example, they clearly indicate a large potential supply of weathering components within the groundwater zone to reduce or mitigate the acidifying effects of land use change and acidic deposition without the environmental needs for Aiming. Furthermore, the high variability of ephemeral stream runoff means that certain areas of catchments where there are specific problems associated with acidification can be identified for focused remediation work for the situation where liming is required.
The case for focused field campaigns and caution against over reliance on blanket modelling approaches is suggested. The results negate the conventional generalizations within hydrology of how water moves through catchments to generate streamflow events (from Hortonian overland flow to catchment contributing areas).