Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
30 Sep 2001
30 Sep 2001

Long-term changes in the water quality of rainfall, cloud water and stream water for moorland, forested and clear-felled catchments at Plynlimon, mid-Wales

C. Neal, B. Reynolds, M. Neal, B. Pugh, L. Hill, and H. Wickham

Abstract. Long term changes in the water quality of rainfall, cloud water and stream waters draining acidic and acid sensitive moorland and forested catchments at Plynlimon, mid-Wales, are examined for the period 1983 to 2001. Atmospheric inputs of chloride and sulphate are influenced by the relative inputs of clean maritime and polluted land based air masses. There is no systematic increase or decrease over time for chloride and non-sea-salt sulphate. Rather, there is a decadal scale process possibly representative of the influence of the North Atlantic Oscillation that affects the maritime and pollution climate of the Atlantic seaboard of the UK. Over 17 years of study, there may be a small decrease in non-sea-salt sulphate of about 10 μeq l-1 and a small improvement in acid neutralising capacity of about 20 to 30 μeq l-1 in rainfall. There is a clear improvement in cloud water chemistry with respect to pollutant components (ammonium, nitrate, non-sea-salt sulphate) and acidity (acid neutralising capacity improved by about 300 μeq l-1) through the study period. Many of the changes in cloud water chemistry are similar to rainfall over the same period except the magnitude of change is larger for the cloud water. Within the streams, there is some evidence for reductions in acidity as reflected by acid neutralising capacity becoming less negative. For one stream, deforestation occurred during the sampling period and this led to large increases in nitrate and smaller increases in aluminium midway through the study period. However, the climate and hydrological variability largely masked out other changes. The current analysis provides only a start to identifying trends for such a complex and variable environmental system. The need for strong statistical tools is emphasised to resolve issues of: (a) hydrological induced water quality variability, (b) changing soil and groundwater "endmember" chemistry contribution to the stream and (c) the non-linear patterns of change. Nonetheless, the analysis is enhanced by examining trends in chemistry for yearly averages and yearly average low catch and high catch rainfall and cloud water events as well as low and high flow stream chemistry. This approach allows trends to be examined within the context of endmember mixing.

Keywords: Calcium, aluminium, ammonium, pH, Gran alkalinity, ANC, nitrate, chloride, sulphate, Plynlimon, cloud, mist, rainfall, stream, acidification, North Atlantic Oscillation, trends