Longitudinal and seasonal patterns of stream acidity in a headwater catchment on the Appalachian Plateau, West Virginia, U.S.A.

Ross D. Fitzhugh, Tanya Furman, J. Rick Webb, B. Jack Cosby, Charles T. Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The chemical composition during baseflow was used to elucidate the fundamental processes controlling longitudinal and seasonal patterns of stream acidity in Yellow Creek, a chronically acidic headwater (pH range 3.7-4.2) on the Appalachian Plateau in northeastern West Virginia. Sulfate concentrations controlled the variability of stream acidity within the Yellow Creek catchment. Decreases in stream free H+ acidity with decreasing elevation likely resulted from SO4/2- retention in riparian wetland areas as well as spatial variation in dominant tree species. Seasonal variations in free H+ and inorganic monomeric aluminum (Al(n)+) concentrations appeared related to seasonal fluctuations in baseflow discharge which was controlled by vegetative activity. Baseflow stream discharge, as well as H+ and Al(n)+ acidity, gradually declined during the growing season (June through October), likely reflecting microbial SO4/2- reduction in saturated anaerobic environments within riparian wetlands. A marked pulse of stream H+, Al(n)+, and SO4/2- coincided with an abrupt increase in baseflow discharge resulting from the cessation of transpiration after leaf-fall in November. This seasonal pattern suggests that autumn may be a critical period for eastern brook trout in streams draining wetlands on the Appalachian Plateau.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-62
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999


  • Acidic deposition
  • Aluminum
  • Appalachian Plateau
  • Sulfur
  • Watershed studies
  • Wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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