Factors controlling long-term changes in soil pools of exchangeable basic cations and stream acid neutralizing capacity in a northern hardwood forest ecosystem

Solomon S. Gbondo-Tugbawa, Charles T Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Scopus citations


Understanding the factors regulating the concentrations of basic cations in soils and surface waters is critical if rates of recovery are to be predicted in response to decreases in acidic deposition. Using a dynamic simulation model (PnET-BGC), we evaluated the extent to which atmospheric deposition of strong acids and associated leaching by strong anions, atmospheric deposition of basic cations through changes in emissions of particulate matter, and historical forest cutting have influenced soil pools of exchangeable basic cations and the acid-base status of stream water at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) in New Hampshire. Historical deposition of basic cations was reconstructed from regression relationships with particulate matter emissions. Simulation results indicate that the combination of these factors has resulted in changes in the percent soil base saturation, and stream pH and acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) from pre-industrial estimates of ∼20%, ∼6.3 and ∼45 μeq L-1, respectively, to current values of ∼10%, ∼5.0 and ∼-5 μeq L-1, respectively. These current values fall within the critical thresholds at which forest vegetation and aquatic biotic are at risk from soil and surface water acidification due to acidic deposition. While the deposition of strong acid anions had the largest impact on the acid-base status of soil and stream water, the reduction in deposition of basic cations associated with reductions in particulate emissions was estimated to have contributed about 27% of the depletion in soil Ca2+ exchange pool and 15% of the decreases in stream water concentrations of basic cations. Decline in stream water concentrations of basic cation occurred under both increasing and decreasing exchangeable pools, depending on the process controlling the acid base status of the ecosystem. Model calculations suggest that historical forest cutting has resulted in only slight decreases in soil pools of exchangeable basic cations, and has had a limited effect on stream ANC over the long-term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-185
Number of pages25
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003



  • Acid neutralizing capacity
  • Acidic deposition
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Base cations
  • Calcium biogeochemistry
  • Emissions
  • Exchangeable basic cations
  • Forest disturbance
  • Leaching of soil bases
  • Modeling
  • Soil acidification
  • Soil chemistry
  • Stream acidification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science(all)

Cite this