Effect of whole catchment liming on the episodic acidification of two adirondack streams

Robert M. Newton, Douglas A. Burns, Veronica L. Blette, Charles T. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


During the fall of 1989 7.7Mg/ha of calcium carbonate was applied on two tributary catchments (40 ha and 60 ha) to Woods Lake, a small (25 ha) acidic headwater lake in the western Adirondack region of New York. Stream-water chemistry in both catchment tributaries responded immediately. Acid-neutralizing capacity (ANC) increased by more than 200 μeq/L in one of the streams and more than 1000 μeq/L in the other, from pre-liming values which ranged from -25 to +40 μeq/L. The increase in ANC was primarily due to increases in dissolved Ca2+ concentrations. Most of the initial response of the streams was due to the dissolution of calcite that fell directly into the stream channels and adjacent wetlands. A small beaver impoundment and associated wetlands were probably responsible for the greater response observed in one of the streams. After the liming of subcatchmentIV (60 ha), Ca2+ concentrations increased with increasing stream discharge in the stream during fall rain events, suggesting a contribution from calcite dissolved within the soil and transported to the stream by surface runoff or shallow interflow. Concentrations of other ions not associated with the calcite (e.g. Na+) decreased during fall rain events, presumably due to mixing of solute-rich base flow with more dilute shallow interflow. The strong relation between changes in Ca2+ and changes in NO3- concentrations during spring snowmelt, (r2 = 0.93, slope = 0.96, on an equivalent basis) suggests that both solutes had a common source in the organic horizon of the soil. Increases in NO3- concentrations during snowmelt were balanced by increases in Ca2+ that was released either directly from the calcite or from exchange sites, mitigating episodic acidification of the stream. However, high ambient NO3- concentrations and relatively low ambient Ca2+ concentrations in the stream during the spring caused the stream to become acidic despite the CaCO3 treatment. In stream WO2 (40ha), Ca2+ concentrations were much higher than in stream WO4 because of the dissolution of calcite which fell directly into the upstream beaver pond and its associated wetlands. Calcium concentrations decreased as both NO3- concentrations and stream discharge increased, due to the dilution of Ca-enriched beaver pond water by shallow interflow. Despite this dilution, Ca2+ concentrations were high enough to more than balance strong acid anion (SO42-, NO3-, Cl-) concentrations, resulting in a positive ANC in this stream throughout the year. These data indicate that liming of wetlands and beaver ponds is more effective than whole catchment liming in neutralizing acidic surface waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-322
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Acidic precipitation
  • Adirondack mountains
  • Beaver pond
  • Episodic acidification
  • Liming
  • Snowmelt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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