Articles | Volume 3, issue 4
31 Dec 1999
31 Dec 1999

Evaluation and interpretation of regional and site-specific hydrochemical data bases for water quality assessment

M. G. Hutchins, B. Reynolds, B. Smith, G. N. Wiggans, and T. R. Lister

Abstract. The spatial distribution of stream water composition, as determined by the Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment (G-BASE) conducted by the British Geological Survey (BGS) can be successfully related under baseflow conditions to bedrock geochemistry. Further consideration of results in conjunction with site-specific monitoring data enables factors controlling both spatial and temporal variability in major element composition to be highlighted and allows the value of the survey to be enhanced. Hence, chemical data (i) from streams located on Lower Silurian (Llandovery) bedrock at 1 km2 resolution collected as part of the G-BASE survey of Wales and the West Midlands and (ii) from catchment monitoring studies located in upland mid-Wales (conducted by Institute of Terrestrial Ecology), have been considered together as an example.
Classification of the spatial survey data set in terms of potentially controlling factors was carried out so as to illustrate the level of explanation they could give in terms of observed spatial chemical variability. It was therefore hypothesised that on a geological lithostratigraphic series of limited geochemical contrast, altitude and land-use factors provide better explanation of this variability than others such as lithology at sampling site and stream order. At an individual site, temporal variability was also found to be of considerable significance and, at a monthly time-step, is explicable in terms of factors such as antecedent conditions and seasonality. Data suggest that the degree of this variability may show some relationship with stream order and land-use. Monitoring data from the region also reveal that relationships between stream chemistry and land-use may prove to be strong not only at base flow but also in storm flow conditions.
In a wider context, predictions of the sensitivity of stream water to acidification based on classifications of soil and geology are successful on a regional scale. However, the study undertaken here has shown that use of such classification schemes on a catchment scale results in considerable uncertainty associated with prediction. Uncertainties are due to the large degree of variability in stream chemistry encountered both spatially within geological units and temporally at individual sampling sites.